Breathing Backwards

She dreams herself awake a couple of times with the gentle scrape of stubble across the back of her neck. When Ink opens her eyes there’s nothing there. It had happened before when she thought he was tickling her feet, but woke to find the strange cat from next door stroking its tail along her instep. It must have gotten in the back door. In her half-sleep she wondered if he had just left her.
Other mornings she’d find things missing – his shirts, a razor, then his evacuation continued into the kitchen as he took the can opener, two plates, two teacups, two saucers and two of each piece of cutlery. She wondered if he had someone else or if he was building Noah’s Ark for kitchenware. Either way he was leaving her. The chunky red numbers of the clock radio are different every time she looks at them and she feels stupid for mixing it all up. Days fall into days. She tries to organise them in her mind.
She could still feel the way Ian had rubbed her belly, a warm sweep over its new tautness.
Y’know this is you and me.
Yeah, I should bloody well hope so.
Nah, it’s you and me from here on.
He had his big eyes on, all resolute and pure. She smiled to herself and he pushed wet lips to her cheek. He looked like a superhero in his tight Bonds tee. This was the father of her child, not the bloke who worked in a bank.
Not the bloke who always brought home work and left papers on the floor of the rumpus room. Always a nest of papers, sometimes stacked, but usually splayed out across the desk. You could see where he’d been sitting because it was an absence of paper. Ink wanted to know what they were because Ian could never explain what he did. She’d looked at them and their new language – goal identification, strategic relativism, core value alignments, budgetary fat, gap analysis…She didn’t know which gap to analyse. A large wad of paper had promised Communications Plan but Ink flicked through it to see tables that seemed to say the same thing in slightly different ways. She had wanted Ian to have one of these plans for her.
Days ago she might have gotten up in a dream and felt like wearing her wedding dress again. It was days since she’d caught herself in the mirror but before she draws the white dress over her head she spots a roll of fat. She straightens and pinches it, but it bunches in her hand. Its roundness sickens her. How could this have happened? It seemed like only yesterday Mum had been worried that she didn’t eat enough, that all the posters on her walls were of thin girls or that beneath her pale skin there were too many ribs showing. Ink slumps back into bed.
Dad was always saying it:
Look at ya, girl. All bones. What aren’t we feeding you?
I’m fine, Dad.
Leave her alone. She’s just hit her growth spurt, Mum cautioned.
Growth spurt? Dad grumped. She needs to eat more. Not sulk away from the table having nibbled Brussels sprouts. I mean Brussels sprouts, what kid eats Brussels sprouts?
Ink sneaked a laugh.
I mean it. They’re vegies used to torture kids. You’re not s’posed to like ’em.
In the high school change rooms before swimming, Ink would inch her undies off under her skirt then twist into her swimmers. She hated the water, slowly coming up on her, a sleazy cool hand revealing her smallness to the other girls. She knew she was only okay when the water took her completely, when she put her head under and kicked out.
She tried not to look at the other girls in the change rooms, but she knew they looked at her. Some stared. Others made the quick comparisons of sidelong looks. She heard Daniella the Dog eating Twisties beside her, as she leant back looking at Ink. Daniella was just wearing her bikini – her legs long, thin and tanned from running on Sydney beaches over the holidays. Her fingers were thick with orange powder.
Nice bum on ya, the Dog said.
Ink didn’t say anything. Didn’t want to start anything. Knew the sports master Mr Baker would be just outside the door cause he was such an old perv.
Didn’t ya hear me? I said nice bum on ya.
Others stopped. Ink had to say something.
Piss off, Daniella. You’re just jealous.
Ink didn’t look up, but she could hear the Dog licking Twisties off her fingers.
The only person who sees yer arse is yer retard brother. Probably looks good to him.
All the fear surged up. She didn’t look. Just pushed everything in her at the Dog. She was quick, so the Dog didn’t see it coming. There were a few minutes when Ink was on top of her clawing, kicking and fierce when she felt like she was really getting her. When the Dog couldn’t say anything. Then she saw Mr Baker’s socks – pulled up to his blonde-haired knees so the nobs of them stuck out like fat-faced babies.
What the bloody hell is going on in here?
Ink levered herself up. Her hand mashed a Twistie into the concrete.
Fucken mole, Daniella the Dog said under her breath.
And a few of her gang laughed, but Mr Baker didn’t hear. Ink felt the trickle of blood coming from her nose.