Tracey Slaughter – 7 Images You Can’t Use

photo credit: cobalt123


Tracey Slaughter
7 images You Can’t Use

It would be good to open on an image here.
Use an image, they say in class: dirt in the bed of a silver ute, tools and thick grit sifted on the hairpins, a rotted out birds nest, beer cans ricocheting light, the white crimps in his iris, the murky park where you pull offroad, breathe into the rearview. Look how much you’ve got to use (oh yeah, it rhymes with lose for a reason). Draw the reader into the details. Be concrete: oh, the concrete stubbing your tailbone, the ramp you can hear kids flogging their bikes down, ply hauled circular and hollowed with mould, the landing mangling the clay as he grubs under your jeans, and you grub back, to cup him unequivocally with muscle, close your lonely cunt on fingertips. Get the picture? Use it anyway you like.

Stay with the image. In the image, he withdraws. There’s no background, there’s no foreground. You lay face up, let your breath resettle your trunk, his come cool down on your hip. The concrete on the back of your wrists: ah, you sad bitch, there’s the rub. Everything grazing you, except for his kiss. You are the place in the world he won’t look at. He’s interested in getting his gear straight, his smokes out, his boots on their track through the pines. He’s got shit to do, right? Don’t pretend you didn’t know it. When you get up, in this shiver, this clamber, no one’s feeling sorry. This is the way it works. Tipped upright, a trickle still winds up in the jeans you drag on. Warm and rough on the seam, dead centre: you blunder back to the ute with that, adrift. He’s a diagonal of dark pines ahead. You watch him kick a nest out left, so it’s looseknit, upended and grey at the base of the trees. Nothing lives in it. That says something. But if you stop, he’ll rev the engine maybe once, then bail. There’s a sea that slumps up at the bottom of the gully. Nothing rideable, just low cut humps of dirty green. The kids have got fuckall air off the halfpipe. It’s spongy with weather and the nails are squeezing back up. It’s good of him to give you a lift. You suppose.

Grit on silver, travelling in halflight. Tools vibrating in their metal slide. Stars of eggwhite glinting on your belly. The view: nothing but tremors at a distance, silt and liquid the woman tells you is limbs. The wand runs down your gut. She nudges it into give above the pubic bone, reading the bulges of light that come from its bounce: spine, fingertips. There’s a click of numbers on her screen to measure it in weeks. So here’s an image: accidental, the shape of a kid, like a mess you traced in sand, unthinking, with a cracked stick, all those hours you wait on the beach and stare out, watching the glide of him, when a swell gets up, unloving you.

The counsellor passes you an image too. It’s a face in a pale sac, a fleck of baby. Bud hands, bloated head, a dob of black eye under film. A pink squirming rope, afloat. In her office, there’s a skylight in four metal squares that stamp the light down. She is not helping you. Not the way you thought. She twitches her chair close, pats you, underhanded. The image has fine veins, that fill as she licks her index to turn the next page. Now the image has fingernails. You thought she would give you procedures. Book times, count you down. Instead she gives you prayers. It’s too late to back out past the potplants, the dollpink plastic guts with their snap on kids. The layers of organ cupped around the foetus look made in china, wipeclean and toxic, like things you used to lineup on plates as a child in your playhouse kitchenette. You can see fillets in the image, seethrough muscles binding to a tiny backbone. The woman has a file of hole-punched options and you feel in your teeth when she clicks the steel rings closed.

There’s a shaped glass so you can see who’s coming in the pub door when you’re out the back. You’re rinsing the dishes: people slide over the dial of it, magnified. The apron, taped at your waist, is where you wipe your hands. Your belly ends the night in a wet sail. You don’t think about its passenger. Your hands look chlorinated.
Except when it’s him – his image on the mirror, taking a slow dive from left to right. He goes to the bottlestore side of the bar, not where the usual losers are dozing. You soak the cloth on your thighs. Your palms are heavy with what you’ve got to hide.
He’s stocking up large – must be a big night on. You rack it up on the till, but the cost comes out sky high –a trail of zeros he’s not fucking paying for. As if, he leans in and tells you, as if. You ring it on again, damp thumbs in a slow thud. He guillotines his wallet on the counter, a fed-up tap. You try to read a pattern in his stubble, like it could map where he’s been, who he’s hanging with, whether he’s got two fucks to give. But he’s not interested in you. Why would that change? You can’t take his eyes, square on. You think of the girl he’s bound to tip this booze down, the nest he’ll punch between her open legs, the seconds she’ll lie and see as love. The thing inside you swivels and makes no difference.
You have to be careful opening the till, so the tray doesn’t whang out and munt you in the gut. But you’re not. Big deal. Like he was going to flinch. He wants his change. You scour it out, count it back into his hand. And that’s it. You’ve got a sink to get to. Strips of fish to swab in batter, drop into a gush. Order up. People wade across the surface of the mirror. The thing inside you is a sigh, or just as pitiful. All those dishes won’t just scrape themselves.

If you need a wider angle: stand by the sea. But it won’t help you. All it does is tip the horizon to ankle-level, swish by swish. Gulls black out bits of the sky. Where the sand spits out there’s a park with some mongrel swings, bung chains on slipshod legs. The picnic tables are meant for knives and birdshit. A cast of kids hoot from their hoodies, getting good and pissed. The cloud looks tidal, shapes washed up in it you only half recognise. Behind you the rest of the town backs down. The church, the pub, the dump, in a line. Where else would you be? Even the kid’s got no exit.

What does it look like from inside? – your black bush singlet the only thing that fits, the cross-hatched slack of it, and under that a layer of belly, pulled hard in a bloodshot swell. You’re like a giant eyelid. Sometimes he drives past you in the main street, and doesn’t blink. You stand and watch – the afterbirth of green tarpaulin flapping on the ute bed.

The class is on a truck they drag round coastal towns – there’s no shortage of them, sunlit and shithouse. They call it a foundation. The social worker sends you down. The writing teacher has a lesbo hairdo dyed malignant blonde. She believes in all you losers. Use an image, she says, use your voice. Give the reader the details, specifics, so they see. All the other women, run to fat in their marl tracksuits, have brought in a longago photo in a white gown. Boobs boned up on budget satin, a tinny ignition of cutprice sequins down their frocks. There’s men in the shot, but it’s their own face they write about mostly, in the only day of makeup that ever stuck right. Their poems sound like smudgeproof adverts. The teacher’s earrings are branded dyke artillery and they lurch when she nods at you. Your turn. But you don’t have a photo – why would you keep one? Detail: his hair came out tussock-coloured. Detail: he had bluebrown fists. Detail: they dumped him on the wet bed of your trunk while you feathered the blood in his hair, lefthanded. There were some seconds where his mouth went, specific, easy-does-it around your nipple, browsing for some love you couldn’t stock. And that was it. No one took a photo. So you don’t have an image to end on.