Alice Robinson produced this piece during Noted, Canberra’s independent writers’ festival. She was asked to write a memoir for a real or imagined character using LinkedIn, and these are the results. You can view Coralie Jones’s LinkedIn profile here.
Chick ‘N’ Chips
I prepare and stuff roast chickens. Day in, day out. Twelve-hour shifts. Hand inside the bird. My skin smells strange: cold flesh. At night I dream of fists. Of breadcrumbs. My ankles swell from standing. Heat from the ovens bursts capillaries, red needlework sewn on my face.
(I remember what he said to me in the wings of the theatre, his first compliment, as I pulled a T-shirt over my rehearsal leotard, dressing for the street. “You really do have such beautiful skin.”)
Sometimes I catch sight of myself, a clumsy flightless bird, reflected in the shiny silver oven doors. But I try not to look. I remember how it felt to leap and spin across a stage, heart hammering blood, legs trilling with the effort. The scaffolding for such magic remains there somewhere under my baggy clothes, under the sag and padding of my skin, but it’s hard to reconcile with painful knees and abs gone soft with disuse. I listen to talkback, not music. Music only urges me to move. Music forces me to see, with clarity I cannot bare, the distance I’ve fallen.
After work I return to the one bedroom unit. A beer, a ready-made meal peeled open. The phone sometimes rings. I never answer. It calls into the darkened kitchen, forlorn. Mail piles up in the hall. But I’m not hurting anyone. I work. I’m contributing. I’m pulling my weight.
Blinded by grief, a migraine. I longed to bury myself in a darkened room with a damp cloth over my eyes. But I couldn’t stay at Father’s. Couldn’t walk the streets I walked with her, past the park where we played, her kindergarten with the rainbow mural on the wall. Everything hurt my eyes to see. There was the place she fell off her bike. There, the hill she loved to run down. “I’m flying, Mummy!” I couldn’t stop myself from going to look at the faint trace of her shoe in the footpath outside the new shops. I was angry that day, yanking her away from the freshly poured concrete, “Hurry up, Giselle. I’ll be late for work.” Why didn’t I just let her play? Why didn’t I tell her to press her feet, her hands, her face into the soft, grey matter?
I came to Melbourne, took the first job offered. The manager knew I drank at work. He let it go on. A nice man really, doughy and disappointed, with his worn polo shirts and pants too tight around the thighs. He had his own stresses. Two kids in New South Wales, private school fees. “What’s wrong with the local state school?” he groaned every week. “I mean, I ask you? What in God’s name am I paying for?”
The first time, he cried afterwards, standing up against the boxes in the cool room with his pants around his ankles. “You’re so tiny,” he said. “Like a doll.” He told me I was beautiful, but it wasn’t true by then, long hair cut roughly short, purple welts below the eyes from lack of sleep. My strength had melted over months, limbs so thin I could circle my arm above the elbow with forefinger and thumb. I was always cold, unless very drunk. Then, mercifully, I couldn’t feel anything at all.
He wanted to save me, wanted us to save one another. But his kindness made me livid. I raked his back, drawing blood with my nails.
Kayla’s School of Dance
Father agreed to babysit two nights a week and on Saturday mornings so that I could work. At first it pained me to leave my darling and I dithered, anxiously imparting instruction with my bag over my arm. “If she won’t stop crying, take her for a walk,” I told him. “She should go off to sleep after the bottle, but if not…”
I was always late for class at first. But as the months went by and she grew larger, and I saw how much they adored one another, how fine they were at home without me, I took to arriving at the studio a little early, turning my attention to the contours and limitations of my own, new body.
In the brief interlude before my tiny pupils came clattering up the stairs, needing help with their ribbons and buns, noisy with excitement for the coming lesson, I was alone in the big open room. I left the lights low and played the same, worn classical CDs I had been trained on, tentatively stretching my limbs to breaking point across the glossy wooden boards.
The Australian Ballet
In his tight black pants, legs like chords of rope, he called my name. “Step forward.” His hands were cool on my bare shoulders, adjusting the angle of my arms above my head for the opening position. The music played. I inhaled, moved. Famous for withholding compliments, he was silent as I danced, but I felt the approval in his gaze, a spotlight. My muscles elongated, humming. Wall of heat at my back, their jealousy, the faceless girls.
When I saw my name on the list I exploded, a firework, glittering particles of joy. I still remember that. The way I hugged myself in the hallway, dizzy with my own success.
Rehearsals. Of course I loved him. We all loved him. I loved him the very first day. I loved him pushing his dark curls back in frustration, screeching, “You’re butchering it!” I loved the sweat on his brow. I loved his moods, the way he closed his eyes and collapsed onto the barre under the window, whispering, “We’ll never be ready in time.”
Extra practice after hours, one on one.
Yes, I thought in that one moment that he really did love me. I was foolish, a sheltered twenty-two. I saw his naked back reflected in the mirror over his shoulder, pale and muscular. His beauty seemed to refract light.
Afterwards, wet sat on the floor together and he rubbed my feet, kneading the painful knot of bone, swollen knuckles. “Thank you,” I said shyly, lacking something more profound to say.
Six weeks later and a stick with two pink lines. I stared, uncomprehending. Numb.
Corps de Ballet
The Australian Ballet
Mother threw me a party to celebrate. Speeches were made. “To think, our little girl!” Pink champagne she wouldn’t let me drink. Presents on the table: a new satin robe, name embroidered on the chest. Sheep’s wool slippers for bruised feet.
Mother, father, my friend Belle from the school (she hadn’t auditioned; she wanted other things, she said. But I know what they told her. Too fat). Congratulations!
In the circle of light from the candles they called for me to dance. Friends and family hushed, watching. I saw myself in the darkened kitchen windows, a flame. The rose satin party skirt flared up my legs, toes like shards of glass from all the audition prep, but I smiled, thinking I had made it. In pirouette, the kitchen of my childhood turned. Brown and white tiles, flashing. I felt the ambition, my dream, all those hours at the barre, like a rod right through me.
I didn’t know then what I know now. That dreams are a danger, waiting to crush.
Australian Ballet School
High School, Classical Ballet, Years 11–12
Sea of skin. My toenails blackened and dropped. At lunchtime I lingered over the apple, the low-fat yoghurt, lightheaded with longing for this to be my life.
Traralgon High School
High School, Years 7–10
Sit down, sit down, sit down they said, so I practiced under the desk, rolling up through the balls of my feet.
Activities and Societies: Little Athletics; Calisthenics; Choral Choir
Kayla’s School of Dance
A photographer came from the local paper when I was twelve. Rising Star, they called me. A photo on the front page, a perfect midair split.
Activities and Societies: Classical Ballet; Jazz; Tap
Volunteer Experience and Causes
Grief Support Group Facilities Officer
That first year I tried hard to say her name then sat silent. Rocks in my mouth. So much styrofoam tea. Cheap chocolate biscuits wept in my hands. I stared and stared at the circle of shoes: other parents’ feet. Couldn’t bare to meet their eyes. When invited to share I shook and shook. Head, hands, everything. At night I woke screaming, saltwater burn up my throat.
Second and third year I couldn’t stop talking. She loved The Wiggles, I shared. The colour blue. Winnie the Pooh. Perfect arch, perfect point. While I saved for her lessons we practiced at home. First position. The bow of her lips. Second position. Her body against mine in my bed. Third position. Her knees still dimpled, babyhood not yet disappeared. Fourth position. My mother’s blue eyes, also mine, in her head. Fifth position. The funny things she said. Some people leave the bedrooms intact, shrines of furniture and toys. But that second year I packed her room and gave away the boxes. Empty space: a wound in the house.
That fourth year I volunteered: the circle of chairs, the biscuits, the urn. I can see myself at fifty and sixty and seventy and eighty, still vacuuming over the stains in the church hall carpet every week, hobbled by arthritis in my feet. And there’s her, still on holiday, still five, laughing, jumping waves, before I momentarily let go of her hand, turn away, to grab my new sunhat blown high on the wind.
Traralgon Mothers’ Group
I went home to have her. Mother was dead by then; I think father was glad for the company. He never cared much for ballet, not really, was so consumed by his grief that my situation seemed just one more bad thing to cope with. When I knocked on the door of the house it was open so fast I wondered if he had been waiting behind it for me to arrive. We fell together across the threshold, clinging, holding each other up.
On the train out of the city, satin shoes like corpses stuffed deep in my bad, I felt her move for the first time. Already I looked ridiculous, like a bird swallowed a pumpkin. But as the buildings gave way to farmland I felt sandbags, my disappointment, empty. The voices of the faceless girls, their whispers and snickers, receded. (I couldn’t yet think of his face, his voice, his body without cringing, cowering within the hair shirt of my shame).
Months later: the birth. Belle held one hand, father the other. The midwives marvelled at my strength as she came torpedoing out. Panting, torn and bleeding, I looked into her perfect face and thought, Oh! It’s you!
Alice Robinson has a PhD in creative writing from Victoria University. Her debut novel, Anchor Point (Affirm Press), was long listed for the Indie Book Awards (debut fiction) and The Stella Prize.