Grace Jarvis is a second year university student in the throes of an arts degree based existential crisis. She was the recipient of the Queensland Theatre Company’s Young Playwright’s Award in 2015 and feels she needs to mention it constantly as it’s the most impressive thing she’s ever done. You can find her on Twitter @grace4jarvis.
This poem first appeared in Issue Seventeen of Tincture Journal. Please support our work by buying a copy.
There is a very beautiful girl sitting opposite me on the train. I am openly staring at her and she looks uncomfortable. I don’t mind. Locks of purple hair fall unrestrained onto her forehead as her eyes restlessly sprint around the carriage, looking for something to land on besides my beady gaze. I am almost pleased when she chooses the chipped remnants of black polish encrusting her jagged nails. Her lipstick is bleeding. There is a thick layer of grime coating her cuticles and her nervous fiddling continues to distress an already significant hole in her tacky fishnet stockings. I picture my mother scolding me for wearing laddered tights under my godforsaken school kilt and I picture this girl’s mother: dead somewhere, a gutter. My attention, much to her chagrin, returns to the girl after the train’s sudden stop nudges my briefcase against the scuffed toe of her dilapidated Doc Marten. I scowl at the girl and she tucks her violet hair behind her punctured ear and seeks refuge behind a battered copy of The Bell Jar.
I wonder if she knows she is a cliché.
I wonder if she has a boyfriend.
I wonder if she looks this terrified when she fucks.
I get off the train.
It’s a short walk to the office, but the scorching Brisbane sun prevents the usual gaiety I provide to the outing. The stickiness of my blouse removes some of the dignity. My heels clatter over a storm drain and I make a show of bending over and placing a twenty into the hat of a women asleep under a battered Driza-Bone.
Generous behaviour, too, for the workmen across the road from my vulnerable behind. Grinning, I saunter onwards down the street to the tune of whistling.
Air-conditioning; a blissful respite, spoilt only by Serena chewing her nails loudly behind the shiny reception desk. Each bite sends a clattering echo around the obscenely acoustic lobby and I’m tempted to walk over and rip her traumatised hands out of her mouth.
I walk quickly towards her, imagining the pleasure seizing her thick, blonde ponytail would provide me.
My god, the woman has guillotines for teeth.
Pause. She looks up at me and smiles. Her lips, previously host to a lurid scarlet, which is now painted in rings around her fingers and smeared over her crooked teeth, create a gaping wound in her otherwise pleasing face.
Her smile flickers at my address and she raises her eyebrows to indicate the recognition of her name.
Oh, she’s a retriever, it all makes sense.
“Can you send a memo up to Carlisle and tell him we’re meeting with new candidates for the position at 9?”
Her mauled digits skitter across the greasy keyboard below her. She is clearly relieved at the task. I imagine her ravaging a chew toy with her Revlon-stained incisors and fight the urge to tell her what a GOOD GIRL she is, for fear of her flaxen braid whipping into overdrive with excitement. I walk towards the lifts, my heels taking to the marble floor with a much more harmonious echo. I press the button.
“And Serena?” I call back over my shoulder.
“Mm?” she says, mouth already full of her wretched extremities.
“If you must have something in your mouth like that all the time, might I recommend cock?”
I smirk. The lift doors open and she turns an interesting shade of puce.
“It’s just that it might get you promoted.”
The sixteenth floor is about as busy as one can expect for a work environment full of rich white men pretending to do a very important job that even they do not understand. I wander past a room seemingly wallpapered with obscure graphs and catch a moment of exceptional comedy as I notice an overweight man, standing with his suit jacket over his chair, looking at pages of numbers and just scratching his head.
I cough from the doorway.
His glazed expression snaps back to engaged and I chuckle at the growing dark patches in the underarms of his expensive shirt. I am so engrossed in the silent movie that I appear to have been gifted free tickets for, that I do not notice Jeremiah come up behind me until his clumsy, grotesque hands have a grip on my butt. I whip around and am confronted by his leering grin and twinkly, piggy eyes. I can smell the pie he had for breakfast on his breath and his repulsive yellow teeth stand like headstones in his cavernous mouth.
I am afraid he might swallow me.
He is still touching me.
I taste bile.
“How’s my angel?” he grunts.
‘My angel’ is the apparent nickname of the day, ruining the twenty-eight-day streak of ‘Honey Bun’ (he loves Rodgers & Hammerstein, he is a cultured man) and joining the prestigious ranks of ‘sweetie pie’, ‘sugar lump’ and just plain ‘sexy’.
For the traditionalists.
“Better now that you’re here,” I purr, uncomfortably aware of the lack of exits.
Jeremiah, ego soothed, releases me from his grasp and begins to waffle on about a darling story involving the death of a ringtail possum on his way to the office and the immense satisfaction it caused him frosting his bumper with fur and blood.
There is a fleck of pastry clinging to his bulbous upper lip.
This man controls my salary.
He is still talking about the dead possum.
There is altogether too much arousal in his tone. I imagine him on his hands and knees, licking ex-possum off his BMW. I imagine his wife watching the bouncing fleck of pastry, which I assume is a permanent addition, knowing she has shackled herself to such a heinous man. I imagine the wife is holding a carving knife. It makes me feel better. I imagine Jeremiah staying late at the office and jerking off to the proudly-framed picture of his sixteen-year-old daughter permanently suspended in a moment of volleyball triumph.
I excuse myself.
Carlisle is waiting for me in my office. He looks somewhat sympathetic. I must look shell-shocked. He points past a dehydrated pot plant to the sparsely decorated waiting room and indicates a crowd of nervous strangers clutching folders. We exchange a look of dread.
“Now?” he questions, reluctantly.
“Let them eat cake, I guess.”
A string of applicants breaches my office; stumbling over simple human tasks and blinking deafly at very basic instructions. Carlisle and I snicker between appointments.
“This could be a drinking game,” he smirks, after the sixth university graduate has forgotten their own name.
“Yeah,” I said. A bird flies into the spotless window.
“Drink every time someone’s life comes crashing down around them.”
My favourite is a pretty brunette girl, who comes in after a string of men, all with seemingly the exact same name. She is wearing a tight black dress and odd green velvet boots and she looks on the verge of a nervous breakdown. There is a terror behind her eyes that intrigues me almost enough to ask about her personal life, but I automate the string of scripted questions and ignore the responses just as I had for all the previous candidates.
It’s only fair.
We give her the assigned topic and ask her to give a short presentation. She stands and wiggles to straighten out her dress. I smirk as Carlisle ogles her without discretion. She’s his type. He likes a Calamity Jane.
She’s a disaster; midway through her hasty performance her entire being becomes distracted by the purple bra strap that begins slipping off her shoulder. She pushes it up under her dress. It slips down again. She pushes it back. It slips down. Her lip starts to tremble. The terror behind her eyes swings up a level, like the bushfire warning signs on the highway. I watch this woman’s bushfire risk swing from high to catastrophic in such a violent manner that I’m sure it will knock her over. She pushes her bra strap back under her dress. I lean forward, fascinated. I am sure that I am about to watch what happens when a human brain implodes. She finishes the presentation. I am tempted to award her a medal, were I not sure she would collapse hysterically over the finish line and expect me to reconstruct her.
We call in another Michael.
In a break between interviews, I sidle into the ladies’ room and I’m confronted by the catastrophic brunette hunched over the furthest sink from the door.
The floor is wet.
I kind of hope she’s pissed herself, until I realise the puddle accumulating on the tiles is being supplied by the overflowing sink she is tending to. She has wrenched her tight black dress down around her waist, rid herself of the tragedy bra (I see it, hanging haphazardly from the adjacent tap) and is hunched topless over the sink. Her tits—very nice tits—are flopped out and hanging into the porcelain lake and she is crying hysterically. Her brunette hair is damp and sticking to her bare face. I take a step back. I am consumed by the glorious image.
An oil painting.
Venus de Milo.
She belongs in a museum. I forget my bulbous bladder and I stand rapt.
“What was your name again, sweetheart?” I ask, in the hushed tone appropriate around exquisite art.
The Mona Lisa has no eyebrows.
“Isabelle,” she sobs, not looking up from her aquatic breasts. Her green velvet boots are soaking wet.
There’s a ladder in her stockings.
Back in my office I put the name ‘Isabelle’ in purple letters at the top of my list.
By the time I leave, Serena has dragged her mangled nails home.
On the way back to the train station I look for the lady under the Dryza-Bone, but she is gone and the train carriage is empty.
I imagine the beautiful girl in the fishnets.
I imagine her reading Sylvia Plath to her cat. I imagine her buying gin in the bar near her house. I imagine her throwing herself off a bridge.
I imagine her mother; dead somewhere, a gutter.