Purple silk sheets, wind chimes and a closed door. Curly makes me wait in the living room while she follows Miss Diamond into the bedroom. I hear Curly’s high-pitched voice through the fibro walls. Why did her boyfriend ditch her at the Prairiewood Macca’s drive-through? Would she ever get to lick the cheese off his greasy Quarter Pounder again? Miss Diamond’s response is buffered by thick phlegm.
The living room floor is covered with stacks of Fairfield Advance newspapers and yoga DVDs: White women in tight clothes with hard nipples and bent bodies posing in front of a beach, a forest and a mountain. Incense holders, candles, crystals, dreamcatchers and dolphin statues decorate every shelf, benchtop and doorway. Despite the burning sticks of musk, the house smells like dog piss and wet towels. In one corner, sits a dusty fan blowing hot air around the room, rustling through the corners of the rolled-up papers; its neck clicking every time it spins too far to the left.
I sit on the stiff corduroy couch, the little bristles in the ribbed fabric scratching the back of my sweaty thighs, and pretend to watch the television. I ignore the man in green shorts sitting beside me. This is the psychic equivalent of a doctor’s waiting room, don’t make eye contact unless you want an awkward conversation. I don’t expect the trays of chai and biskeeteh offered to guests visiting an Assyrian home, but surely a glass of cold water on such a hot day is not too much to ask of the host. The week-old bottle of water in the boot of Curly’s car had failed to quench my thirst, instead filling my mouth with the taste of heated plastic and leaving my stomach bloated. I feel that contradictory combination of needing to pee and thirsting for water. The body of the man beside me moves in and out of my peripheral—his flesh bordering my view of the cricket game. The players on the TV are all wearing white and I can’t tell the teams apart. Curiosity builds until finally I have to look at the man to make sense of the pink fuzz fogging my view. He is shirtless, with a tanned chest and a rounded gut. He has one hand on the remote and the index of the other hand digging deep inside his large-lobed ears. His pale feet are up on the table, yellow toenails inches away from an open jar of mayonnaise. Why do people with ugly piggies have no shame displaying them? I’m disgusted but I envy him as well. The straps of my sandals are tight around my feet and when I curl my toes I can feel the moisture collecting beneath them.
‘You like the cricket?’
His voice is loud and deep like the gurgling of water from a draining bathtub. I feel it rumble in the floorboards and shake up my skinny legs, intensifying my urge to pee.
‘I can change the channel.’
‘I’m fine... I think the mayonnaise should be in the fridge.’
‘Nah, it’s good. I like it warm. Melts into the chicken better.’ He rubs the ball of his foot against the sweating jar and makes a grunting sound as he draws snot back into his throat. I’m worried he is going to spit. I hate saliva. It’s a smoothie of bad breath, food grains and bacteria. My belly button pulls in and up towards my chest. Why do men spit? Does their raging testosterone overwhelm them with stores of semen and saliva?
I bring my knees in and edge my body to the other side of the couch until I’m leaning over the handle, elbow digging into the couch threads. I keep my arms close to my sides so he won’t notice the sweat darkening the pits of my peach blouse.
‘You up next?’
‘For the reading?’
‘Mum’s the real deal you know.’
From inside the psychic’s chambers, Curly’s voice gets loud again. Is she crying? I’m embarrassed for her. I don’t want to be here, but I also don’t want to sit through another lecture in her pink Nissan Micra about how best friends are the boyfriends that would tweeze out your blackheads. Last time she wouldn’t even let me roll the window down because she said it was distracting. Then she pulled her iPhone from her pocket and began to read out a list of things she had done for me since 2008, including making me an onion and cheese sandwich and saving my birthday cards. I screamed as we nearly crashed at the two-lane roundabout on Polding St while she sobbed my name. I’d known Curly since high school, back then she was more grounded. She liked lasagne, boys with braces and reading fantasy novels.
This obsession with the future started six months ago with a stack of tarot cards Curly had bought off eBay. $9.99, free shipping express from Hong Kong. She had just been dumped by Marcus and this was how she was going to find a new boyfriend. Sitting on the cold tiled floor of her bedroom, she shuffled the cards, cut them twice and then pulled them out slowly one by one. First the lovers, then the hanging man and then death. Choices, sacrifice and change. Her pink bobble head gasped at each revelation so that her blonde spirals of hair bounced and her purple lipstick began to crack at the corners. I mirrored the ‘O’ her mouth made, pretending to be equally amazed. The only psychics I believed in were the ones my father told me about—the gypsies that once a year would pass through his street in Baghdad. They could tell you what you did for a living just by looking at your hands. When my father was nineteen, a gypsy told him to stop selling cherries at his fruit shop. A week later he found a young woman on the floor of the second aisle. She’d choked to death on a cherry pit. Next Curly took me to the Open Minds store at Market Town. As I walked around trying to find the most expensive gem to make fun of, Curly introduced herself to the woman behind the counter. They bonded over their ability to see shadow people and their love of Edward, that glittering vampire stud. Thirty minutes later Curly was given a business card: Miss Anne-Marie Diamond Professional Psychic Medium. Services include: Tarot, Palms, Clairvoyance, Planets, Spiritual Therapy, Yoga, Cleansing, Channelling, Life Coaching and Past Lives.
‘You have very dark eyes, you know.’
‘Pardon?’ I break my gaze from the television and turn to face Miss Diamond’s son. Freckles, blond eyebrows and pale lips. He looks like a model for a zinc ad. He pulls his finger out of his ear and wipes wax on his shorts. Then he moves to scratch at the curly hair around his belly button.
‘You have very dark eyes.’
‘You know there’s lots of superstition round people with dark eyes. Some reckon they can see into our souls.’
I had never heard this before. In Assyrian culture it is the blue and green eyes that concern us. With just a look, they can jinx you in your moment of good fortune. I shut my eyes (to keep Miss Diamond’s son from looking into them) and take a deep breath. Hot air from the fan hits my face. It smells of cheap mayo: too much vinegar and powdered egg. All I can think about is eyeballs, toes, freckles, sauce and the dry feeling in my mouth that pulls at my throat.
‘Where are you from?’
‘No, like what are you?’ He points at my eyes.
‘I know a lady that’s Syrian. Works on the Boulevard. Name like a crab. She’s fat.’
I don’t correct him. Even if he said Assyrian, I doubt he’d know the difference. In his mind we’re all just yelping desert monkeys.
‘You speak English good for someone from Syria.’ He pauses as if waiting for me to say thank you. I don’t want to be rude so I nod. I wish Curly would hurry up. On the way here, I had called Miss Diamond a dole-bludging scammer. Would Curly tell her? Would Miss Diamond tell Curly to find a new psychic-accepting friend? I hear Miss Diamond laugh. What did Curly say? Since when is she funny?
‘Are all Syrian girls like you?’
I don’t know what that means. Is he flirting with me? His arms are uncrossed. His knees face forward. He has thick quads like a rugby player and when he catches me staring he winks. I feel all the heat from my butt rise up to my cheeks. ‘May I please use your bathroom?’ I stand up before he answers.
‘Sure you can. I’ll let you take a shit in there but no baths.’ He snorts at his own joke and points down the hallway.
There is a wooden plaque hanging above the toilet door with a beach scene painted on it and a quote, ‘Breathe Deeply and Relax’. The bathroom smells like faeces, soured water, rusty pipes and shoe polish. It’s small and even hotter than the living room. Dusty seashell soaps decorate the space around the sink, and above it there is a big mirror splattered with dry toothpaste and face cream. I look like a bird with my frizzy brown hair lining up behind the speckles. I walk over to the yellowed toilet seat and stare down the bowl. There are caked trails of shit running down the back. His hairy pimpled arse has touched the seat. My butt can’t touch it. Even with the door locked, I don’t want to be naked in this house. I might catch something. I’ll have to hold my pee in until I get home. I wait a few minutes. Long enough for him to think I did a number one, not long enough for number two. Then I flush the toilet, run the tap for a few seconds and go back to the living room. The couch is empty. The door to Miss Diamonds’ room is open.
I wonder if Curly is still in there. I walk over to the room. Red curtains are drawn across the window making everything inside glow pink. As soon as I step into the doorway, a thin-knuckled hand grabs me by the arm and pulls me inside.
I’m forced onto the end of a cushioned bed, black sheets slithering under my legs. Miss Diamond is sitting comfortably beside me with her legs hanging down in a side-saddle position. She’s dressed in a satin robe with lotus flowers decorating the sleeves. The robe is tied loosely, fraying pink nightie underneath. She’s tan and rough like a clay pot and smells of sandalwood and cigarettes. Her warm hand is still holding on to my arm.
‘I saw yeh comin’.’
‘Out of the bathroom?’
Miss Diamond laughs loud, her shark teeth and purple gums on display.
‘Nah... I saw yeh... in a dream.’ Using her free hand, she grabs me by the chin and pulls my face toward her mouth, so I can smell her last coffee. I try to wriggle myself free but her grip is firm.
‘I can help you-ooo,’ she says, stretching out the U on ‘you’. ‘Yer a pie-seas in conflict. Too much water in yer sign, too much earth in yer eyes. I can cure it.’ She has a small mole over her left eye. It’s like a chocolate chip weighing her eyelid down.
‘I only came in here to see where my friend went.’
‘Yeh sure? Or did ya come here for answers?’
‘I don’t need answers.’
‘Yer seventeen and yev never been kissed, unless you count that time when yeh were seven and yeh pretended yeh were a fish.’
How in Ashur’s name did she know that? I hadn’t even told Curly. I hadn’t told anyone. My neighbour Sam and I had been sitting on large floor cushions watching Figaro and Cleo. Figaro was a cat and Cleo was a fish. They kissed between the glass of Cleo's goldfish bowl. Sam turned to me and suggested we try the same. I pouted and he purred and his mother walked in and screamed.
‘Let me help ya, yer a few years away from a Drew Berry movie.’
I try to stand up but she pulls me back down, her fingers digging like sharp spider legs into my bicep. The sleeve of her robe falls past her elbow, showing a forearm that looks like the tapered half of a cooked chicken wing, bones poking from beneath pimpled brown flesh. ‘Yer scared. I can see it… yeh think there’s somethin’ wrong. Like maybe yer parents didn’t hug yeh enough. Why else would yeh be so weird about touching?’
‘I’m not weird about touching.’
‘I can help.’
She lets go of me, drops down on her knees and crawls under the bed. There are flowers printed all along the back of her robe. I watch one slowly disappear as the satin slips into the crack between her legs. If there was any mysticism, it is all lost watching her butt wriggle in the air.
‘Got ’em!’ She pulls out a glass jar of green sludge and half a watermelon. When she stands up she hands me the watermelon. It’s covered in Gladwrap and is glowing bright red. While I hold the melon, she tries to open the jar. The lid is screwed on tight. Reaching into her robe pocket, she pulls out a small knife and shimmies the blade into the tight crack between the metal lid and the glass lip. The suction seal breaks, a quick twist and the jar opens, the lid falling to the floor. The room is filled with the smell of freshly dug earth, boiled asparagus and leather.
‘Don’t drop it now.’
I’m not sure what she means until she lifts the knife above her head and plunges the blade into the watermelon. I scream, but I don’t let go. She stabs the fruit one, two, three, four, five, six times, drops the knife to the floor and lifts the plastic wrap off the melon. The stabs have turned the bright melon flesh into slush.
Miss Diamond scoops a handful of goop out of the jar and smears it over the melon. Wiping her dirty hand onto her robe, she then pulls out a spoon from her other pocket and hands it to me.
‘I’m allergic to certain types of soil.’
‘Do yeh like Nutella?’
‘Pretend it’s Nutella.’
I pass the melon to one hand and take the spoon. I don’t want to eat the dirt melon, because I’ll vomit all over her, but I also don’t want to make her angry, because I might be the next thing she turns into slush with six stabs. Miss Diamond is standing so close her nightie is brushing against my knee. Her chin is dripping with sweat and pink beads of melon juice. Her body is so small and dry it is hard to imagine she had given birth to anything, least of all the man I had met in the living room. She’s a piece of busterma meat, her muscles wasted and sunken to the bones, skin salted and pickled to preserve.
I dig the spoon in the red and brown mush, hold my breath, pretend it’s just chocolate and eat it. The second it touches my tongue I gag, coughing the soured paste back into the melon. Miss Diamond moves behind me and slaps me hard between my shoulder blades, forcing globs of saliva out of my mouth.
‘The first step to balance is the purge. I’m gonna go take a piss.’
I hear her footsteps fade out. I’m still holding the melon half and try to throw it down to the floor, but my arms are weak and instead it just rolls down the side of the bed and falls face down. I really need water. I stand up and walk slowly towards where I think the kitchen is. I find it, turn the sink tap on and stick my mouth into the stream. First the water is warm as a bath and I let it gargle out the taste of the salty sludge. Then it cools and I slurp and swallow until my belly button starts to press firmly against the waistband of my skirt. The urge to pee returns. Suddenly, Curly is laughing and I raise my head to look through the window just over the sink. She is standing in the backyard talking to Miss Diamond’s son while he barbeques. The sun bringing out her thirty-dollar highlights, she looks just like the blonde model on the hair dye box. Her legs are long and tanned in her denim shorts and brown wedges. Miss Diamond’s son is thick, square and tall standing next to her. He picks up a sausage with his hand and swipes it teasingly across her pink lips. Then he pulls it away and bites the tip, and she giggles, her blue eyes squinting as her hamster cheeks swell. They’re quiet while I count three seconds and then Curly kisses him, a big sloppy meaty mouth kiss. Perhaps the tarot cards worked for her. I feel jealous watching his fingers stroking the side of her cheek. Maybe if I had stayed on the couch, he could have been stroking my cheek—I should avert my gaze before I curse them with my dark eyes. Then I remember he picked wax out of his ears.
Suddenly there is a creak behind me and I twist. Just past the kitchen, standing in the doorway of her room, is Miss Diamond, cigarette in hand, ash falling to the floor, laughing so loud that I hear the mucus bubbling in her throat.
‘Did you do this?’ I ask, gesturing back toward her son and Curly.
‘Yer ready,’ she says, pointing to the jar her son had left on the coffee table. ‘Bring me that mayo.’
The scam ass! I’ve been in this shitbag house for three hours sweating my tits off and no one has offered me a glass of water. Instead, she tries to poison me with a melon not even the cockroaches want and now she expects me to eat her son’s foot sauce? I walk over to the open mayo, pick it up and throw it hard against the fan. The glass jar cracks on the metal cage and flecks of mayonnaise spray out across the house, covering Miss Diamond.
‘Tell Curly I went home!’ I shout, sprinting past her toward the front door.
‘Wait!’ Miss Diamond yells back at me, mayonnaise dripping from her hair, cigarette poised at her lips. ‘Yeh owe me fifty bucks fer the session.’
This piece was originally published in The Lifted Brow #38. Get your copy here.
Monikka Eliah is an Assyrian-Australian writer from Fairfield. She is a member of Sweatshop: Western Sydney Literacy Movement.