“I don’t like to be objectified.” he says. There’s a little pause between the three of them, the elder two are listening, waiting for him to finish, “. . . I need to think about it.”
“You don’t want to think about it?” She has misheard him. Languid swimmers pass close to them. The light is receding behind the hill with its skyline of blue jacaranda trees.
“No. I need to think about it.” He is reclined on the decking with his head propped against her bag, arms folded across his chest.
The conversation moves elsewhere. She turns on her back and tunes out, mirroring the boy on the deck by folding her arms across her chest. What is the sub-text to his comment? Is it a warning to her, or the other man – his occasional lover? Or is he thinking of something else entirely?
Objectification. Sheesh! The boy drips sex from his wrists like honey. There is something ancient and timeless in the way he moves; the little twist in his mouth; a cool calm distance which gets distilled to languor in his beautiful dark eyes.
His sexuality manifests in quite sophisticated and subtle energy swirls. She knows he probably doesn’t have a full understanding of it. But maybe this isn’t about sexual objectification: maybe he’s getting at something else.
Her thoughts move to the ambivalence she has felt all her life towards writing about other people; the almost surgical extraction of pleasure. As a teenager she remembers the hot blush in writing what she really thought about her friends; the guilt of not being able to tell them to their face, and yet also feeling powerful and secretive. Does this boy think she runs her writer’s eyes over his body?
Underneath all this is a genuine protectiveness towards him. His complexity reminds her of herself at that age. So there’s the rub – She’s projecting what she once needed onto this boy.
Whether he needs it or not, she will continue to. It’s the only panacea she can give to the years of horror; the feeling of existing posthumously; the relentlessness of it… If she can make sure just one other person needn’t go through that…
But she is forced to admit – it’s not about him: it’s her who’s still not fine…
She swings her legs off the deckchair and begins hastily putting on her shoes. She has already grabbed her bag by the time they realise she is going.
They watch her back recede.
“What got into her?”
“Is she all right?”
“I don’t know.”
Bad memories have started crowding and with them a sense of absolute and suffocating loneliness. Her breathing is speeding. She knows as soon as she can be somewhere private that she will clench her jaw against the panic, staying as still as possible until it passes. As she mounts the stairs, she briefly contemplates locking herself in a cubicle, but keeps moving: away from the swimming pool; across the road towards the park, half clawing her way up the hill.
Unexpectedly, the boy has followed her. The sweetness of his concern would normally warm her heart but her mind has started glitching and she stands swaying slightly, him a little down the hill, while the harbour and the sky peel like wallpaper behind his head.
She keeps waiting for the inevitable questions: What’s the matter? Are you all right?
They stand in silence for a while which he breaks by saying, “Tell me the sexual fantasies you have had about me.”
In an earlier conversation he had asked her whether she told people her fantasies. She said, ‘Sometimes’, and didn’t register that he was thinking of himself. The vanity of the question asked at this particular moment exhausts her, and she sinks to the grass where he comes and sits beside her. She begins talking, like an automaton, looking at the clover around her feet.
“We bump into each other in the street, not far from your house. You ask me to come back. You want to show me some photographs. I am in your bedroom looking at the bookshelf when you say to me from the bed, ‘Tell me about the sexual fantasies you have about me.’ I go to the bed, recline next to you and say, ‘We bump into each other in the street, not far from your house. You ask me to come back. You want to show me some photographs. I am in your bedroom bent over the bookshelf when you say to me from the bed…”
She smiles a little to herself and glances at him to see his reaction. What a perfect moment of candor! Because if it is true that she tried to fantasise about him, it is equally true that she failed.
He is looking at her, wryly impressed by her ‘wit’ but she sees no need to enlighten him. She feels connected again and has no desire to destroy it with words.