Words Tamara Montina
In the esurient stomach of a retired paper-town, a house convulses with a warning. It is my house. It assumes the form of an iridescent shell and wax-paper walls that fold inwards to erect as a bare casing. Foreign bodies watch me through a chartaceous veil. Their beady pupils peer into the kitchenette, observing eerily. Soapsuds lick the lip of my washing basin, dissipating, and by the open window that speaks to the back garden, soy milk curdles in a bulbous ceramic cup amongst a hedge of moss-like mould that skims dirty cutlery and strawberry pulps. The onlookers peer into my quaint laundry, where embroidered curtains, frilled with stained lace, sit still within a plastic hamper. It is sopping and festering. They know it has been there for days. A humid blood-orange tinge radiates from this house, my house, as if a slice of cellophane skin had been held up to the saturated sun. As I move across the hallway, I feel my limbs cut through the dry air and my flattened chest bubbles with frosted flakes and a seasonal, soulful sadness. I rest a hard-cover on my chesterfield sofa, it is adorned with a bold red border and a thickened serif that swells with anticipation. It reads, ‘origami for beginners’, it teaches me how to fold familiar patterns. With my nimble hands, I construct the world around me.
On late spring afternoons, I fold from my stock of squared, Chiyogami Yuzen paper that I purchased from a local Japanese retailer, where the shelves are congested with discount stationery and tufts of ripened tissue paper. The motifs of the Chiyogami are vibrant and rambunctious, with lustrous gold accents that whisper onto the page as if pacifying. The material is pressed between my index and thumb; it is etched together by pure cotton and silk-screened in a factory to reveal sweetened, yellow tulips and ethereal movements of swan wingspans. These flowers often remind me that we are all prepped and pruned for others. I am a petunia, a bouquet of plum-purple petals and thorny stems that sit desolate in a crystallised vase my mother purchased from a garage sale when I was 8. I whisper to the sun, telling her to show me her face, to breathe on me, but her gaze escapes me. I wilt in this vase, yearning for warmth.
On slurred days with mid-morning awakenings and untouched skin, I fold and unfold from heavy cardstock of neutral hues. I fold them like my handled linens, crumpled and tossed onto a heap on my floorboards. I flip corners, and pleat edges, I piece together a bouquet of budding apple trees for my fictitious back garden—they are too beautiful to be owned—I lay them beside my bare feet that are planted to the vinyl. I will keep them for myself. I use an egg-shell white cardstock paper for a picket fence, and a burgundy for the tiled and jagged roof.
The heat of my tacky fingertips silhouettes the vulnerable shape of my home—an illusion of touch. If you apply your radiating warmth, you can shape it into anything you like, too. A sanctuary for one’s soul or a guardhouse for the heart. Every person that enters this space leaves an impression, an imprint. Their hands transfer onto the page and I watch my house
evolve and morph into an unfamiliar state of being. The fine grooves and whirls of their fingerprints stain the paper until it becomes indecipherable. Who was here yesterday? I do not remember. I have been here all along.
Everything in this house smells like moth balls and nicotine, like the unloved corners of a 1970’s dresser. Everything in this house is see-through. The velvet dress I wear is diaphanous and while my skin is an olive-brown, it is tinted with a clear varnish. I am woody to taste, like a darkened molasses syrup extracted from a stalk of my Lola’s sugarcane. The mirror that hangs in my shower tells me who I am; I am nothing.
The lone window that is panelled by boards of wet acrylic-white is an exit and an entry for my mind. On buzzing nights of late cable television and counting calories, I sit on the chesterfield, opposite of the window and I look at the sky filled with static. I think of the utility poles that are stationed in my neighbourhood. I think of lying my naked flesh onto the paved road. I think of how the slashes of electric cords protruding from the poles would look like black cross-hatching against a prickly canvas. I think of how if I centred my face parallel to the moon, maybe, I could speak to you. I think of sleeping here.
And in the uncomfortable darkness between eyelids blinking, I think of you. The remnants of you. Your skull was a meek crescent moon, the frontal section of your bone, dipping in and out like the letter ‘c’. Your body betrayed you, the bursting of a vessel that killed decades, lifetimes within lifetimes, of your memories in a mere moment of suspension. The left side of your pink face drooped and frowned, and the other half, with whitened chapped lips, would ask me if I still loved you, despite. Despite me seeing the raw strips of skin that branded my mother’s neck after your hostile date nights of dinner and karaoke. Despite finding love letters from the affairs with Asian women that looked like me, almost as young as me. Despite you befriending me, coerecing me to believe that I was precious and beautiful, but invading me. Despite this, do I still love you? You spoke to me as if your throat had been mangled for an epoch, like a wet towel that had been twisted, and twisted, and twisted. Your voice; is attuned to hesitancy and an aching desire to connect. My slender arms and curved spine would exhaust myself over your wheelchair after tedious days of schooling, the green pleated skirt of my uniform lay in my lap, and with the whites of my eyes, I would watch you from afar. Your absence of mobility. Your absence of.
Your eyes, a milky blue, glazed over like scalloped icing on sponge cake. Your eyes, bygone and foreign. Who was I talking to? I lost you years ago. You wore a monotonous grey helmet since your dismissal from rehabilitation in the brain injury ward. The foam padding of your cap, stained with dry blood from the scabbing on your head and specks of dandruff, was a purgatory cushioning between your brain and phases of reality. The shell of your headpiece sits on top of the oak mantelpiece now, next to your ashes. The box that hosts the mounds of your skin, hair and fingernails shifts unnervingly in a hefty cardboard box. The makeshift-urn is made of an innocent lilac purple, with intricate monarch butterflies that adorn your new body, a vessel to consume and reside in. The butterflies were reminiscent of those that rippled against a poster on the door of your hospital room, hung up by one of the nurses the afternoon you died. Ever since, I avoid lush gardens drenched in that familiar cold wash of yellow haze, it dejects me. My cheeks puff with any inkling of those melancholic wisps and wings. I cannot be reminded of such a time.
I sit in my origami house, with the walls creased in and I let my thoughts consume me. The lights in this house are dimming, with lace curtains drawn, I cannot escape the eye of death. The carpets are stained with my handsome painted face, I flee this despondency. Teardrops like crystal beads cut down my face, slipping into the gaps of my teeth and rinsing my tongue. It tastes metallic, like O negative blood. I think of you, still. When we had co-existed in this space, in this living room (we could barely call it ‘living’), you’d tell me to spin around for you in my sundress, you’d coo to me that my slim body was delectable and beyond mature, as if you were describing your favourite bottle of Pinot Noir. Now, your half-full vice collects clouds of dust at the back of the pantry, next to the arrangements of broken and used appliances: once needed, now forgotten.
And in this house that I made, with the book you bought me for my 7th birthday, I pick at the forbidden tape that holds me together. I meticulously remove all the paper floorboards by tickling each panel with a used toothpick, teeth gritted. I peel off the rustic picture frames that garnish the walls in memories of us, seasonal images of Christmas and birthdays. I unfold all puckered corners to relax the material. I press my cold palms onto the sheets, summoning my entire weight into the undoing of the wrinkles and ridges.
I smooth it out.
And I start over.
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