In Married at First Sight the woman is running to a public toilet to escape from the rain and from the husband, who is chasing her. The husband is begging dispassionately. “Baby, please don’t cry.” He seems annoyed about the crying. He is looking in the opposite direction. Earlier in tonight’s episode, the husband could not tell the difference between camembert and butter. He put a slice of camembert into a hot frying pan. The camera zoomed in on the burning camembert while comedic stock music played, allowing us to pretend that his reality was not tragic. The woman, in the next room, appeared listless. The husband threw the piece of burnt cheese out of his kitchen window like the world was his trash can.
The theme of this couple is the Oedipus Complex. The husband is looking for a mother figure he can have sex with. The theme is failing because the woman is actually looking for a boyfriend.
When my boyfriend and I arrive in Yogyakarta there is a monsoon. We run through deep water on the way to a restaurant. I feel young. A strange man at the table asks us about the blood moon. The rice is served in a perfect orb, wrapped in yellow paper. The folding of the paper is so pure.
I am in the process of becoming estranged from my parents, I think. It sounds glamorous but feels remorseless. My feet are muddy from climbing the ancient Buddhist temple. I have touched a stone as old as the world! But every stone is as old as the world, even the ones that are composite.
It doesn’t stop raining for nine days. My boyfriend and I become restless in our hotel. The hotel becomes a prison of relaxation. I smoke berry-flavoured cigarettes and drink juice. The hotel has a large bathroom and cable. We watch Everybody Loves Raymond. We watch Khloe Kardashian help a teen lose forty-six pounds so that he can try and get a date. We watch the teen’s date look at him, thinner and wearing different clothes, and turn him down. We watch Gordon Ramsay teach his daughter how to cook a French stew.
My boyfriend is reading Madame Bovary, and I am reading a book whose protagonist is reading Madame Bovary.1 We keep saying things to each other while we wait for room service, like, “Homais is such a mansplainer,” and, “Female boredom is, like, catastrophic.” I try to use body language to emphasise how relatable Emma Bovary is to me without giving him any spoilers. “All my credit card applications get rejected,” I explain to my boyfriend. “It’s kind of like that.”
I used to tell my Tinder dates that my parents named me after Emma Bovary, to impress them and to liken myself to her, the most chic depressed person in literature. “We have so much in common,” I would joke. They would ask what and I would say, “Well we’re both named Emma.” I wanted her to be my namesake so badly, but I don’t even think my parents know who she is.
In Jakarta, our apartment is opposite the National Monument. Although it is so tall, our view is of a parking lot. When it is night and the parking lot is empty, thin cats run up and down its spiralling ramps, like they are playing a clandestine game.
There are so many outlet malls and they are vast like towns. Shoppers climb over one another to search through piles of fake handbags on the floor, shrink-wrapped Michael Kors and Guess. There is a whole zone for fake handbags. There are other zones: jeans, sunglasses, hijab, puffer jackets, DVDs, fast food, iPhones. Every vendor sees us pass and calls out to us. “Miss, mister, shopping?” I remember a video I watched a few weeks before coming here. In the video, part of the floor of the Jakarta Stock Exchange collapsed while a large group was standing on it. Everyone screamed but nobody died. The building looked just like this one does on the inside. I buy a Gucci T-shirt for twelve dollars. In the Uber home, I whisper to my boyfriend: “Malls are like monuments to us.” My boyfriend nods. The Uber driver blasts soft jazz and I watch theme parks and hotels pass by the window like they are ads during a movie.
In the early 2000s, many of the chefs on television were men. It was so uncool to be a woman and to be domestic. Cooking was technical, hard-edged. It was a skill that you would learn and master. Kitchens were clean, like places to do surgery, and the instruments of food-making were sharp and metallic. Did women no longer belong in the kitchen, or did the kitchen no longer belong to us? It didn’t matter to me. I was a teenage girl and I could buy diet versions of everything from the store.
Now it is 2018 and I have a kitchen of my own. But what do I do with it? I sauté kale tentatively. I eat the kale. The kale is bland and soggy. I need a man like Gordon Ramsay to yell at me in a clean, clinical space about how bland and soggy my kale is, so that I may learn to make it better. The domestic woman is cool again, but only in her leisure time. It is cool to make embroidery, to sell your embroidery. It is cool to cut flowers and put them in a vase, to post the flowers and the vase on Instagram. It is cool to bake a beau-tiful cake, to go on television for your cake, to go on MasterChef because of the beauty of your cake and to use MasterChef to boost your profile as an emerging baker or model or personal trainer.
I am having this crisis re: what work I can do. Really: what work can I do? What are my market-able skills? Maybe my parents believe that I am good for something. Maybe their silence is a way of releasing me into the wild, like animal parents do on National Geographic.
Whenever I get a manicure I have to throw up after-wards. It’s the tweezers, tearing up the cuticles. The removal of parts of me, quick and precise. When she is done with one hand, the manicurist wipes the pieces of my skin onto a napkin and moves onto the other hand. On the napkin are other piles of skin, belonging to other people. They’ve hardened into crusts. I think this is the part that always gets me.
I can’t stop drinking coffee. I can’t stop listening to the sad songs from my teenage years. I can’t stop buying sweet, pink wine. I spend hours online looking for a cheap copy of Rihanna’s Jessica Walsh parka that I can Afterpay. It is true that my therapist tells me my shopping is a safety behaviour: that I buy things to fill a void in my life, left by something we need to identify together. I ask her: Do we really need to identify the void? She says: Absolutely. She asks me if the parka will make me happy, and I say that it is self-improvement. The parka will change my life.
I know that in the past, men must have seemed so ugly to women: coming home from the world all dirty and exhausted, wanting things. The things men want. Emma Bovary was bored in that lavish house. There was nowhere inside of it that she could go.
I fell in love with my boyfriend when he was making green smoothies. I watched him put the spinach and the orange juice in the blender. It was like watching a beautiful film. I still watch him in this way, when he is doing tasks. Folding towels. Downward dog. It has been some years.
A memory: a child feeds koi in a pond with pellets from a paper bag. The fish throw their orange bodies out of the water and onto the stones, trying to catch each pellet. The child is young and can’t throw far. A fish flops around on smooth, round stones laid in a pattern to look like small flowers. The fish rocks itself back and forth until it gains enough momentum to fall back into the water. It seems fine, I guess.
One night in Yogyakarta, I scream at my boyfriend on the side of the road because neither of us can choose a restaurant and I am very hungry. Two men, smoking, watch us fight. I want to tell them that we sometimes love each other in this way and that it’s normal. The theme of this couple is... banal. The theme is working because it’s supposed to. But the two men do not speak English, and the only Indonesian words I know are “sorry”, “thank you”, and “this is too expensive”.
This piece was first published in The Lifted Brow #38.
Emma Marie Jones is a Melbourne-based writer, and the author of Something To Be Tiptoed Around, a work of experimental memoir shortlisted for the Scribe Nonfictino Prize for Young Writers in 2015 and to be released by Grattan Street Pres in 2018. She is currently working on her first novel.