Fiction

Every two seconds

SOMEBODY DIES EVERY two seconds, and then every two seconds somebody is born. It's what Mum told me when my rabbit died. And I'm thinking and it's too quiet, so I say it now that somebody dies, I say it aloud, and Julia lets out a sudden sob like a death-rattle, like it's the last breath she'll ever take, like breathing's the hardest thing she could do right now. That sob is almost worse than the silence, so that's when I ask them:

"Do you think she still has a vagina?"

And sometimes I'm quiet and sometimes I talk, but I'm asking them because nobody's mentioning the legs. They're standing around the coffin which is shiny and brown and lined with white lace, and one of the things they're not doing is asking. Like about Beth's legs not being there. We're all supposed to notice. It's why they didn't keep half of the casket closed. Which they could have, if they thought about it, if they wanted to hide it from us, what she'd done. It's what I think, but nobody's saying anything so I'm flicking my fingers at my legs and my feet, I can't keep them still.

"Do you think it got ripped off?" I ask, right before Julia runs out of the room to be sick. And that's when I have to leave. Because of vomit. Everything's clean and quiet, and her heaving out in the hallway is like a big crack in the room.

 

WHERE I GO is to the train station. Julia doesn't try to stop me. Mum'll have her head for that, but she lets me go because she's still heaving and she can't stand my flicking anymore – she can't stand it at all.

It's a two-minute walk to the station, which is a hundred and twenty seconds, which is divided by two which is six-add-the-zero which is sixty people died, sixty people were born, and I walk and I shuffle with my head down so that I don't have to look anybody in the eye. They say that's what it is about me that nobody likes, that I can't look them in the eye. That and the flicking. And the asking questions.

The flicking fingers and my big red mouth.

Somebody dies every two seconds, and then every two seconds somebody is born. It's why I don't mind the sound of the train. Julia can't stand to be near the trains anymore, but somebody died, somebody died, somebody died, and then somebody was born, somebody was born.

Julia, she's fed up with the trains.

 

BETH USED TO take me to the trains. "I'll take him," Beth said, and she tucked my arm into its jacket because it was always cold here on the station. Julia didn't like it because Beth was her friend, but she took me to the trains and sometimes we stood by the fence and hooked our fingers through the wire and sometimes we sat on the platform and waved when the train pulled out. Stay behind the white line, Beth said, and she held me back by the arm just in case, because my feet they keep moving, my feet they just won't stay still.

And sometimes when we go to the train it's the 3.45 because the

3.45 is fast and the 3.45 doesn't stop, and we stand behind the wire or we stand on the platform, and we close our eyes and the fast train is like whoosh and it makes a wind and I say "nnnn" and I say "NNNGN", and Beth rubs my back and says "Davey" and her hands are warm friction then we go back home.

 

AND I CAN feel Julia staring and she knows I hate staring but she stares at me and her hands are on her lap, that's where I'm looking, because hands ... I'm looking and her hands are clasped and her fingers are long and they don't move. I feel it in my fingers, how they start to flick, and I'm like "nnnn" and Mum says: "Julia what are you doing to him?" and she says "Nothing", and my hands are flicking and I'm "nnnn" and that's when I have to leave.

And sometimes I talk and sometimes I'm quiet and always I run away to the train, and it's 3.45 and the train doesn't stop and I stand behind the wires or the platform and it's whoosh and I close my eyes, and the roar in my ears is like whoosh and they come and get me then, sometimes Mum and sometimes Julia but mostly Mum because Julia, she's fed up with trains.

 

AND THEY'RE IN the kitchen and they're saying: "It's mostly men that do it like that." Mum's saying and I can hear Julia nodding her head. "A man will do it like that because it's so violent," says Mum, and I hear her from my bedroom how she says about how mostly women will do it gentle like with pills and with blades and like with rope, except it isn't really rope; usually it's something like a belt or a sheet but never a train, not for a girl, not usually.

 

AND SOMEBODY DIED and mum says: "You can't just not take him. You have to let him say goodbye", and Julia's like Mum, and Mum says: "It wouldn't be right."

The thing they're not doing is they're not touching her, so I lift my hand and press my fingers into her hair. Her hair's not soft and I can't remember – was it soft before? Her hair is cold and crisp and I think it must be frozen but I touch it anyway and I think she wouldn't have liked us to think about her not being soft and does that matter anymore? I don't know. It's like they've done her up to go out but they froze her hair and I think when she burns it's going to crackle.

And I think maybe that's why she chose the train, because then there'd be nothing left, and it'd be like smack, and like SMACK, and there'd be nothing left of her and nobody would ever know was she soft or not, except maybe she missed because she has no legs so maybe she didn't do it right.

And the quiet, it's so loud, and I'm like "nnnnyn" and my feet won't stay still and I say her hair's gonna crackle, and I pull my hand back and then push it back forward and when I touch her, her hair isn't soft.

And somebody died and somebody was born and I wonder if when you step in front of a train you take somebody else's two seconds and suddenly they don't die, and they're like choking and like krrrckhh and then suddenly they're alive because you took their place, and then it's like somebody died and somebody didn't die and then somebody was born.

 

MY RABBIT HIS name was Henry, and he died and my feet won't stay still so where I run is to the station but it's early for the 3.45 so I have to wait. I don't want them to come and get me so I'm there, and then there's Beth and she puts her fingers through the wire and I tell her, "Maybe I want to die too."

"You don't really want to die," she says, and she says if you ever want to die what you have to do is give your life to somebody else instead. Because what a waste. She says: "If you ever want to die, you just say to yourself maybe if I help other people."

"Like the refugees?" I tell her, and she says "Yes, like the refugees," and I say "Like Akhmed?" and she says "Yes", and it makes me quiet and I say "but I don't like people". "How about you save the animals?" she says, and I say "Can it be orangutans?" And I tell her about the Taronga Zoo.

"The zoo," I tell her, "had the orangutans in a cage and it was cement", I'm telling her, and my legs they start moving and I'm like "nnnyng" because the words won't come out, but there was this sign and it said please give us money and I didn't have any money and the orangutans were in the cages and they were cement and bars and small and I was like "nnngyn" and I slammed my palms up to my ears and I was stepping about and Julia she took me away.

"The orangutans?" Beth says, and I say "yes", and she tells me, "You can save the orangutans, Davey. If you ever feel like dying you just get on the train instead. Just get on the train, Davey, and go to Taronga to save the orangutans," and I think how Mum wouldn't let me, how when I run to the trains they come and get me. Eventually they come and then I have to go home.

They put my dead rabbit in the ground but I dig it up and take it to bed and Julia's screaming and Mum's screaming and I'm like "nnnng" and they take him away, and when I dig him up again I get dirt under my fingernails, but he isn't there anymore.

 

WHAT THEY'RE NOT asking is where are her legs and it makes me flick my fingers because the casket's open and it's like Mum's pasta grinder, like she died from the toes up and it had to hurt. I don't look at her face but the cut in her lip, it's like that train slapped her and then ground her downwards. And I used to turn the grinder handle and I was like "nnnng" and Mum let me turn the handle. So she chose the train but it wasn't sudden and violent and I know what that means, it means the train wasn't fast enough, and that's why nobody's asking: Where's her other arm?

I touch her gently in case her head rolls, in case there's no body there at all, in case she's just a head sat up on a pillow. "Do you think ...?" I ask, and Julia runs out of the room.

 

"TELL ME AGAIN how you let the people out," I ask her, and Beth tells me the fence, and she tells me it fell, and I'm saying "... and the people got out?" and she's saying "yes", and I'm saying "... and that was Akhmed?" and she's saying "yes yes yes". I'm like "nnnyn" then, and my feet are stamping and my hands they start to clap, and the snort through my nostrils is sharp and fast and the fast train rushes by us and it's all whoosh and cold air. My body sways so I lift my face up to the slipstream and I'm smiling and I'm smiling while Beth holds me back with her hand on my arm.

 

MUM, SHE SAYS no and I say take me too, because the refugees are hungry and Beth is going to help the hungry people. I say me too, maybe I wanna help but I don't really, no, because I don't like people much.

It's when I meet Akhmed and I don't look him in the eye, but Beth says "Akhmed, this is Davey", and Akhmed has hair on his arms, long black hair that's comb-stroked and soft and his hands are rubber knuckled and leather and skin, and he makes me think of the orangutans and maybe that's why she helps him. And my feet they keep moving and sometimes I talk but this time I'm quiet.

Because I went there to the zoo and Julia said "Do I have to take him?", she said "You know what's gonna happen", and Mum said "Well you can't leave him here," and Julia had a boy and they wanted to hold hands so we went and the orangutans were in small cement cages and I said "What does it say?" and she read the sign and told me it said "Please give money", and I put fifty cents in the slot but the orangutans their hands were all leather and creases and holding on to the bars and I was like "nnnnn" and Julia said "for fuck's sake" and that's when I had to leave.

 

NOBODY'S ASKING ABOUT the legs so I tell them "Men do it this way", but as I say it I know that I'm wrong because the train dragged her down like a grinder, like someone was turning the handle, like when mum lets me help, and she died from the toes upwards and it wasn't quick and her lip has a cut like the train slapped her about and she didn't want anything left but here she is and the casket is all the way open and that's why nobody's asking: "Is her other breast even there?"

 

AND AKHMED'S GONE and I say: "They took him away?" And Beth's hands are still and I say "Tell me again about the refugees" and she says "Not today, Davey". Her hands, they're still like they're sleepy, like it's too, too hard to move, and my breathing it's soft and I'm rocking a bit and the fast train goes whoosh and we sway and I'm smiling but Beth she just hugs herself and says "Davey, let's go home".

Nobody's mentioning that she has no legs and I wonder if there was a baby being born without legs and now they have hers. And maybe somebody was dying from smoking and they're like coughing up blood, they're like "hrrgh hrrrrrgh" and it's like somebody died somebody was born, and then it's his turn to die but then suddenly Beth takes his place, he can breathe and his family are like: "what?"

And somebody died and somebody was born and if animals were counted like people we'd have to say it too fast and somebody died and somebody died and we just couldn't keep up. I'm thinking and thinking and it's so quiet so I say it now that somebody dies, I say it aloud, and Julia lets out a sudden sob, and Beth's legs are not even there, and that's why I'm asking: "Do you think she still has a vagina?"

And sometimes I'm quiet and sometimes I talk and nobody's asking any questions, like why isn't Akhmed here? So that's why my fingers are flicking and I'm asking: "Do you think it got ripped off?" Then Julia runs out of the room to be sick, and that's when I have to leave.

 

WHERE I GO is to the station, which takes me two minutes to walk. And somebody died. And somebody was born.

"I wanna go to Sydney," I say, "it's nine stops to Sydney", and the man tells me that I have to have a ticket. His hands are buckled and pink and there's black under his nails. He's saying "You have to have a ticket" and I'm like "nnnnyn", I'm like nine stops to Sydney, but he doesn't listen so my feet they keep moving, and the other guy says: "Leave him be."

He says: "He comes here all the time."

"He just wants to watch the train," the man says, and they close the window and I can see their hands and it's like they're waiting for me to go away.

"It's nine stops to Sydney," I say, "and that's Albury and Benalla and Wagga, and that's 1,423 minutes which is 85,380 seconds which is divided by two, equals 42,690 people died, 42,690 people were born."

"Stand behind the white line," Beth told me, and I'm thinking about the orangutans and how maybe they're still there in their little cement cages and I say "sorry Beth", and I say "sorry" to the orangutans, and the hair on Akhmed's arms was long and Beth couldn't let the people out and when she chose a train it wasn't fast enough. I wonder did she cry on the platform or did she just run or did she just walk in and step in front, and I can hear the whistle blowing and the wind, it's starting to pick up.

The 3.45, it's fast, and all I have to do is get on the train and the man he calls out: "HEY!"

But it's 3.45 and the white line is there and I close my eyes, because. And that's why we have to start the story at the end, because somebody died and somebody died, and maybe my two seconds are over. 

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