I was eating an apple when I got self-conscious. The student on work experience sitting at the table nearby would be able to hear my crunching and was probably bothered by it. But I also thought how freeing it would be to just continue to eat the apple with abandon. The idea excited me. So I did.
In my first office job, I got into the habit of eating a carrot most afternoons. One afternoon I was sitting at my desk eating my carrot, and another editor who sat in same pod as me cleared his throat and said ‘Ah –’, the way he always did when he wanted to say something. I looked up and he placed his hands on the top of the dividing wall and leaned over and hissed, ‘You’re enjoying that goddamn carrot, are you?’
A poet came into the office. There was a problem with the illustration on the cover of his new book. The dog in the poem was male, but the dog on the cover was decidedly female.
‘I was hesitant to mention this,’ the poet said, sliding the drawing out of his bag to show us.
‘You want me to draw a penis on the dog?’ the illustrator asked him.
‘Well –’ the poet said. ‘It doesn’t have to be … an enormous production, but if you could tweak it somewhat, it would put my mind at rest.’
Most days, we get in at least one expression of disbelief about the passing of time. ‘I can’t believe it’s only Tuesday.’ ‘How dare it be August.’ ‘How is it ten o’clock already?’ We’re almost indignant as we say it, as if time is an old-fashioned family values party that refuses to adapt to the realities of people’s lives now. I say it even though the passing of time is one of the few things I believe in unwaveringly. How would time really have to behave for us truly not to believe it? I think it would have to start glitching pretty seriously before we paid attention. Maybe we would see slivers of twenty years ago in it, like noticing a run in a stocking and seeing your skin through it: you’d be walking along and a bit of the street would peel back and show you what used to be there. Maybe your cat would just never die. Twenty, thirty, forty – still snoring, making a sound exactly like that ancient mummy with the vocal tract that scientists reconstructed with a 3D printer. ‘I don’t believe it,’ the vet keeps saying. ‘I just don’t believe it.’
The man in the running shoe shop put me on the treadmill, had me run for a bit, then called me over to show me the video. He got lost and we had to scroll through a whole bunch of other legs until we got to mine. We watched them for a while. ‘They’re moving well!’ he said. I couldn’t really tell what I was looking at. He rewound the video and we watched the legs again and he slowed them down then sped them up again. The legs looked like they were excited about something, and were trying to explain it to us – either that, or tell us some kind of elaborate lie about what they were actually doing. ‘I’m excited,’ I said when I paid for my new shoes. I’d told him I was coming back to running after two years of getting injured all the time. ‘I’m excited for you,’ he said. ‘One time I couldn’t run for eight months, and I would’ve stopped doing anything at all if it wasn’t for my dog dragging me outside at the same time each day.’
I was up late because I had this idea for a poem about going rafting with my aunties. All of them, living and dead. Just all of us on a raft, going along the Waitaki River. I tried writing it and realised I didn’t know any of my aunties well enough. I didn’t have good details. Uncles would be easier. The poem became about going rafting with my uncles. The first bit went like this:
I’ve gone rafting with my uncles.
Earlier, Uncle Neil lost our only paddle.
The river tore it out of his hand like corn from a husk.
‘Aw, no,’ he said, as the wind came up
and my other uncles and I looked down into the water
and back to Uncle Neil’s hands. His carpenter’s hands
from the 70s. How good he once was at everything,
how hungry we were for salad bowls and cabinets.
The poem ended with my mother appearing in a bush on the side of the river, with a small dog in her arms, and she called for help and everybody was saved. As a poem it didn’t work. The problem was Uncle Neil’s losing the paddle at the start. Also it wasn’t a poem. More and more I think I will have to give up poetry. Every time I start a poem these days I immediately lose it. It feels like looking at a playback of my legs and trying to figure out what the hell they’re saying. But also, more and more, the idea of giving things up excites me.
I had a dream that I was eating. I ate seven jam sandwiches and kept going, casting around the shelves for the next thing – old biscuits, half a bag of chips. I was like a massive tunnel borer. I had to keep the eating going, because it was hard to throw up bread and I needed to delay that process, even if delaying it was only making it worse. I knew that once I couldn’t eat any more I’d have no choice but to make myself throw up, and that whole thing would go on for at least an hour. Then there would be the recovering, and who knows how long that would take. I woke up feeling a heavy dread, then relief when I realised that I hadn’t even eaten any sandwiches. I felt excited too: there were all of these things I could do, now that I didn’t have to recover. It was like the end of that Raymond Carver story: ‘It is August. My life is going to change. I feel it.’
On Saturday I spent a couple of hours watching a series of YouTube videos called ‘The Worst Pain’. I was supposed to be reading manuscripts or maybe writing something. The video series was devoted to a physiotherapist giving men sports massages. The physio had the nickname ‘Thumbs’. After he’d been introduced at the start, the camera always zoomed in on one of his thumbs, and you could see that the thumb looked unusually strong, almost like a horn or a talon. The physio wasted minimal time warming up the muscles: it was just a few brief strokes over the skin with his palms before he went deep into the trigger points.
Like with this guy I was watching now, the feet were often a problem. Typically, the feet were the root of hip and knee and calf injuries. But they were painful to treat. The physio was kneeling at the end of the table with one of the man’s feet in his hands. He had wedged the ankle underneath his armpit, which allowed him to cradle the foot and also stop it from escaping. In his tattooed arms the foot looked tiny, like a face in the window of an airplane. The physio worked mostly in silence, though sometimes he murmured gently when the man on the table was in a special kind of pain.
In every video, the physio had a solid, serene presence as he carried out his work. He was like a rock on a cliff while, below, the man on the table was a sea, thrashing about in both predictable and unpredictable ways. I should have been disgusted with myself, but I didn’t feel like I was. But whenever I was watching I did get pretty tense – my face pushed back into my neck – and maybe my body was trying to tell me how I really felt, reminding me of a time back before the internet was showing us things like this. Still, there would be a before and after shot of this guy’s feet soon – twisted and sore-looking in the before, relaxed and pain-free in the after – and I can’t lie, I was looking forward to seeing those feet.