Wild anti-texts -- phenomena
        in every sort of commotion --
      float above all surfaces
                forming enmeshments
            with everything ...
        Sarah Free

My various lives hover over the words, always remaining the same distance away ... Staring into the mirror on my dresser I would like to enter that world-in-reverse. My gaze shifts to the image in an old tarnished frame. Uneven surfaces have always affected my sight. Oh how I wish my eyes were as smooth as the face of the watch hanging around my sister's neck. She stares from the photograph at someone over my shoulder. Her steady liquid gaze is sultry and dark; her mood, absent. There is always a ghost of a smile about her mouth, though, and love for someone, or something, seems to be there. I touch her lips with my soul.

My uniform is harsh and white -- its symbolism makes me want to vomit. I tie my hair into knots and pin hair-slides onto my scalp. Timid little Sister Free stares back at me, eyes vacant. My mind enters reality for long enough to register that I really have to play the game again ... and then returns to its meditation on something, somewhere. The music playing in my neighbour's house lulls me away from where I should be, preparing for duty ... I imagine another world, or several.


Inside the glass they swirl.

  I'd love to dive into the sea and swim to where my sister lies ... perhaps the fringéd curtain of mine eyes might say what they see beyond the shell of today. But they are far too small to say the words and too large to return to the space where my identity was defined by discourses dressed in coats wearing instruments to check my soul for flesh-wounds.

  The taxi honks its horn. Flurry, fluster. Oh why can't I be Elizabeth Jolley, or better still, Mary de Santis in a White novel -- anything but this imaginative, overly emotional nurse on her way to yet another SHIFT. And why can't my shift be orange with purple flowering button-holes, instead of a starched, ridiculous party-costumed designed by Florence Nightingale on an unenlightened day.

  On the way to work I'm glad that I no longer need to inhale packets of cigarettes to cope with life and death and insanity. Oh may the ward be well today, may it not invade my inner sanctum and entangle its sick greyness with my sense of self. The cab moves so sleekly, making the city a seamless entity. I read something stored in my handbag, some lines written by Sarah before she died. It stings to touch it, but still I stare:

The canvas was old and flaking.
There was no skin, only what we saw.
We could never get close enough, though,
to know the text in every possible "entirety".
It was too large. Its organs were exposed to the air,
and broken bones protruded like jagged fence-posts.
I called it five names and pretended that it visited me ... in prison.

Sarah's time at art-school had been scary. She went through a phase of making her body the only canvas upon which to paint. So as to scratch beneath the surface she'd scar herself with scalpel blades. Paint and blood often toxified and led to days in bed. Finally in a fit of despair she re-registered as a nurse and we went off to various places as a team. I smile, remembering the time we worked together in an asylum late at night.

After donning white garments of mental sanctity, we were ushered through two locked doors. A cheerful psychiatrist, who'd never heard of Foucault, briefed the two nurses from the city.

"Two Sister Frees?" he asked reading our name tags.

"We're sisters," we said.

He continued to study Sarah.

"Haven't I seen you before?"

"I've been in and out of psych wards since I can remember," she laughed.

Her public persona was so seemingly self-assured.

An ancient woman, too old to die, approached us and stared blankly before bellowing:

"Tell me who I am. Ask them duck, ask them at the desk, they'll know -- Oh God, Oh God! I dunno, I dunno who I am!"

Her plastic gums, green with mould, hung limply from her mouth.
The effort of asking had thrown her into a daze.
We told her she was Nellie.
She was convinced for a moment, but had to ask again and again until she was injected off to sleep. Later, with my torch I hunted the ward for signs of any intransigent life after all the medications had kicked in. Finding none I went in search of Sarah.

I found her in the kitchen eating toast with Richard, an ex-BBC radio announcer, who couldn't sleep, ever. His technical condition was manic-depression, but I sensed that his soul had leapt out of his body and could not find its way back, ever. It trawled the earth for information though, and reported this to its owner regularly by way of highly complex psycho-radio waves. Richard spoke about the White Horse which gallops across the Bible and other books, and which would always be galloping through past and future history, and about Truganinni and how no one should be allowed to name Australia anything but an Aboriginal word -- which one he could not say, but Truganinni might do, but no ... And later, when all but Richard and Sarah were sleeping, this man with a molten voice like Heathcliff on a moor, stared at my sister through glasses, thick with the scum of years of neglect.

"Your move," she said.

He slowly placed all his pieces -- rooks, knights, bishops, pawns -- around his king in a circular battle formation, and advanced.

And I always ventured just far enough to know the potential for my own mind to corrupt, to move beyond the legal limits of sanity. Sarah's had. Why not mine? In Cosi, the confetti fell down, and kept falling, far longer than was reasonable, and Barry Otto's whitened face always reminds me of Sarah's plastered with vegemite when she wanted to be Norman Gunston playing an Australian Othello, our great-grandfather, born a Moor in the Azores on a tiny island in the Atlantic called St George.

Where did she go?

And why did she stop writing to me?

I injected thick stuff into the tissues of her body once -- a chemical that can only remain stable in peanut oil, I think, or am I making this up?
Perhaps it was ice cream,
you scream we all scream for I scream for you Sarah.
I forget.

But after a while you could converse normally.
Your behaviour was appropriate.

And then you threw yourself off a bridge
onto rocks.

Theodora Free
© 2000