Virginia Barratt

a dense short story exploring the vicissitudes of memory. spectral remembrance crawling out of the gutters and rusty skips of inner-urban melbourne, or lying dormant as slumping archives under sagging empty beds. long ago memory given lumpen form and stuttering motion. a patchwork quilt tavels through time.


Creativity; Experimental; Sexuality; Queerness

Full text

… and just what is my relationship to memory?

sea eyes turning perlite.

she’s staring at the back of his head, her legs folded over the back of the iron bench, still in fluffy pyjamas, butt balancing on a narrow beam. he’s staircase suntrap sitting, cigarette rolling, damiana and tobacco. she’s judgey about the smoking. you know.

well yes. exactly.

she bottoms out for a breathless moment when she realises what he is saying/not saying.

she thinks: guess i thought that nobody else knew. or see my holes.

there’s a patch of hair he’s missed with the clippers. she imagines the awkward position of the arm getting the spot behind the crown. elbow bent like a broken wing, scapula poking bluntly through the skin. the articulation of the interior. he’s going going gone grey. she’s gone every colour grey.

problems with retrieval. cough. mmmmmfragments.

she says/thinks.

not so much fragments. as. huge bloody gaps. cache erasure. i mean, we’re

talking lacunae, blind spots, chasms, whacking great bleeding bloody


he says/thinks.

they both nod, traversing emptiness.

i remember coming home one afternoon when we were sharing that place

and seeing

the corner of your nice rug hanging out of the dumpster. i liked that rug.

oh! what did the rug look like? knitted? squares? yellow, red… ?

mmmm… I’ll send you a photo

later, he sends her a [photo] and a [message]

looked like this. handmade crocheted, black squares with various brightly

coloured centres not unlike the one i found in the cupboard here.

she thinks: maybe i threw it all out with the rug, into the skip outside the flats on

                                        clyde street: the back garden shed which was more 

                                        garden than shed was gradually made into a by-the-

                                        hour shanty. rotting chairs and carpet rolls dragged in

                                        off the street created a dank boudoir for the working 

                                        girls. the atrium that opened out onto the street and 

                                        the hallway through to the back verandah became an 

                                        all-day thoroughfare for the girls and their johns. hi. 

                                        g’day, hello. cup of tea? outside the bedroom window: 

                                        sleepers, or dead people. 

she doesn’t remember throwing her life into the skip. well, maybe she does and maybe she doesn’t. blank(et)ed. problems with retrieval. fossicking through the odds and sodden ends,

                                        shadowing her eyes against the sharpness of a million 

                                        refractions. the broken hill bottle dump, glittering, like 

                                        a shattered sea. pellucid, cloudy glasses and bright. 

                                       surgent shard heaps, crunching underboot. she doesn’t 

                                        survive well away from the sea, beachcombs the tip as if

                                        it is the littoral zone. 


searching for a memento. what to do with a life-to-date and its accretions? you put it all neatly to bed in a skip, covered by a favorite rug, the crocheted op-shop rug, the comforter. you leave one woolen corner draped over the metal edging. a friend recovers the coveted comforter. it becomes part of the archives. the mongrel archives. the shapeless and fluxing interpretive archives, boxes growing soft with time and slumping under the weight of stories.

so whose rug is this?

they wonder, together.

and whose story, then?

whose rug, so tenderly rescued, bed-ended, lap-draped? and whose story, wet with tears and sharp with hurt? full of scissures, seizures and slippages. all this boxed and under-the-bed. dormant, quietly sporulating, two of everything, biding, awaiting exhumation.

his head makes small movements as he talks. she can’t see his face. said he pulled on the corner of the rug and like a strand of hair you drag out of the drain it dislodged sludgy enmeshed remains. abject but fascinating. body parts fused to light paper. smiles fading. love running away in writing.

so i pulled on the corner of the rug and disturbed your sleeping or

dead people. retrieved that lot for you. for later. after the flood.

she nods. sun illuminates. she is a see-through membrane. she almost


                                        the yellow skip, like a boat, a rusty metal boat on land,  

                                        on asphalt, conveying broken half-lives to the place  

                                       where they all rot together, sorting out their differences 

                                        in a heated compostable earthing. there were three on 

                                        the street, an uncomfortable three catastrophising


                                       three bodies suddenly erupting into an intimacy of fists 

                                        connecting with skins sliding across bones, the fluids of 

                                        three bodies mingling in a loud puddle of tears. a 

                                       cartoon scuffle, a  souring of desire, a breaking of 

                                      hearts you can hear. crying. she watched from the  

                                       window sill, the scene speeding away in a perspectival 

                                        dissociation. all she wanted to do was throw them and 

                                        everything they had ever touched into the boat and 

                                       float it off down the inner city river of muck with all the

                                       rusty bicycles of dread. 

cough-cry. blush. flood sigh laugh. memory wounds bloom and bloom, like blood curdling in milk, boiling crimson. a persistent florescing. petal after petal unfurling, falling, unfurling, falling, in a time-lapse of fresh new colour fading into deadheaded entropy.

are you ok?

overcome. she. just with the breath and under the influence whispers

hhhhhh. yes. mmmmmmnnnnuhuh. [nod]

                                        flood memory: adeline tried to hang herself, she was 

                                        amber’s girlfriend. amber was mean, and stole bikes. 

                                        river stole bikes too, and one morning real early she 

                                       was banging  at the huge front door screaming for us to 

                                        let her in. she’d racked someone’s bike and wanted to 

                                        hide it in our backyard until she could respray it, sell it. 

                                        river was, oh river was. samara’s lover, eventually. 

                                        how did we all end up in a hazy warm tangle of sheets 

                                        and limbs. with with withwithwith. such fucked

                                        bed. familiar and different skins.

her heart is busy in her chest. he doesn’t hear the banging.

                                        how indeed, ending or seeming to, asleep in a double  

                                        bedded dumpster with all the lovers, tangled in sheets, 

                                       stiff with salt and iron. It starts here: in the front seat of 

                                       a rusted carbody.  yellow corrugated awning: SMASH 

                                        REPA RS AND TOWI G a blue car and an awkward,

                                        uncertain kiss. ask if it’s ok. yes. 

                                        nods. there’s this space between them, and their mouths 

                                        part, and they watch each other’s lips and they inch 

                                        forward. two wounds kissing, open wounds. mash

                                       repairs. is this how it 



her heart. busy in her chest.

i know how this sounds, i know, i know. believe me. i know how this


well you were, you know, in a liminal place…

marking time in fits and starts.

there was an architecture i used to go from here to there, and

um, yeah, a crossing ov



to you liminal means the point at which things change, because to me

liminal means the point of uncertainty, the point between certainties

well, yes, this thing called instability

she is breathless. she holds it.

                                        we are breathless together, stealing the air in a hyper 

                                        ventilation. my desire bleeds out of me. our dreams

                                        riot and slam. she takes my arm gently and tells me

                                        what will happen. 

                                        i perform the gestures of receiving as if i know them. 

he breathes in and out, smoke escaping the top of his head, it dances in curlicues and impressionistic ampersands as he fleshes memory to word.

laughing, a tangential reflection: one day i was standing at the sink

and  watched as someone feebly attempted a very stoned break in. i

mean, the window was open, right! he got his head through the

window and saw me. oh sorry mate, i didn’t think there was anyone

               home… got any money?

laugh, he and she both. laugh cry cry laugh. she even says

christ! [so queasy] i hurt so bad for myself. then and now. she

                                        makes a patchwork rug for her bones. makes it from a 

                                        suffocating love. makes it from her own skin. wraps it 

                                        around and around a hundred hundred thousand 

                                       times, but not too tightly. sews up the little grazes, the

                                       nicks cuts tears that love has inflicted upon her with a

                                       small golden needle.


this one time. we were really close to the television, the image broken

up  into coloured snow, everything was partial, nothing resolved. lying

across  the bed, chin resting in hands. i’m swinging my feet into the air

and then letting them drop, bouncing on the mattress. substances for

days and a destitution of sleep.

                                        i perform the gestures of receiving as if i know them. 

we’re laughing a bit, buzzing a bit, in a not unpleasant way. my cheek

resting on the crochet rug, the one you rescued.

he nods, remembering the open window through which

so anyway i’m watching her and she’s looking away from me at the

wall. she’s watching a spider crawl up the wall. except, see, there is no

spider. her head is following the spider-that-isn’t-there up and up.

and i’m thinking: necks don’t twist that far. suddenly she’s a body in

flight, or rictus. she’s dancing the epileptic tarantella and i’m ringing

911 and wondering why no one answers and freaking out watching

limbs do things limbs should never do, but she’s in flight. i listen for

the sound of breaking bones. eventually, itfeels like eventually, there

is just labored breathing and mouth froth and dead eyes. looking into

the face of, of what do you call that? it’s breathing, so not dead,

autonomic. i want to reach inside those huge black pupils and drag her

out. calling her back, calling her back.

                                        kitten, kitten.

i ended up on a bloody hospital gurney myself that night, white waffle

blanket muffling my panic. amygdala running hot.

he turned around to look at her, one eye closed against the brightness of the sun. her head disappearing in a nimbus.

and not for the last time.

                                        curtained cubicles hospital gurneys waffle blankets we 

                                        always stole rubber tubing gauze kidneydishes 

                                        starched pillows cases laughing nurses flickering 

                                       fluorescent tubes  ignore the junkie ignore the attempted 

                                       suicide ignore the nutjob ignore the flicker flicke flicker 

                                      dance dance dance 

her voice emanating as rays from her sun-head. hot words and blind.

no, not for the last… not even for the last. time.

                                        we all fall down among the pungent flowerings

i am a lifetime of conflicts, an archive gone bad, a slump of cardboard,

a curl of paper, a ravel of threads, a stolen bicycle, a schiz of vision.

and you. you in your blue you in your red, your pink, you in all the

hues, you shame me a sham a shame, a vocabulary of sighs, a library

of lamentation, you. are so. sanguine. to my green. there are seven fat

shivering drops. lachrimae. music

accompanies the fall. i have them still, stiff little spots on linen. they

hold all the information i might ever need. this is the archive.



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