Madame Bovary Book Review

Madame Bovary (Flaubert 1857) had me hooked; line, and sinker. As I began reading I was uncertain as to whether Flaubert had intended it to be humorous, or if I were reading it wrong. However, as I read on, I quickly came to the realisation that was the point of Flaubert’s humour; to be dry, ironic, and subtle.

The key to such humour is that whilst we are being treated to a realistic and objective narration of events, as the narrator is that of third person omniscient, we also see everything through the eyes and thoughts of Flaubert’s clawing, desperate characters. This creates a disparate version of the plot; that of the characters, and that of the omniscient narrator/reader.

Emma Bovary, for example, longs for passion, excitement and wealth. She wants for nothing more than her life to mime that of an opera. Instead, however, the first affair she embarks on, whilst an intoxicating Great Romance, in her mind, is in fact nothing more than a womanizing, selfish man recognizing in Emma weaknesses (her boredom and romantic ideals) that leave her ripe for seduction, and taking advantage of this.

Emma’s second love affair ends when she begs her lover for money, since she has incurred for herself, and her husband, an unpayable debt by living beyond her means. Both Emma’s lovers react with cowardice in the face of her desperation. However, had they attached themselves to her, she would undoubtedly either soon grow bored of them, or else be the ruin of them. Both men grow bored with Emma’s antics and desires; here again Flaubert is ironic, for Emma herself is bored with both her husband and child.

Throughout the novel characters continuously comment on how clever a woman Emma is, yet she isn’t shown to be clever in action or thought in any scene. Rather, she is shown to be self-absorbed, and lacking in any affection for her husband, or her only daughter. She takes lovers, but is unsatisfied, and demanding. She takes out loans to purchase luxurious items, yet takes no satisfaction in them, always wanting more.

Emma’s story ends with her suicide, and even that fails to go as she would have hoped; it’s drawn out, painful, and absent of any tender, tearful farewell from her child. In a final, unflattering scene, at her funeral, her head is hacked at in order for her husband to have a lock of her hair.

He stepped forward himself, scissors in hand. He was shaking so violently that he punctured the skin in several places on the forehead. Finally, bracing himself for the shock, Homais gave two or three big cuts at random, which left white patches in her beautiful black hair. (Flaubert 1857, p. 345)

For the final irony of ironies, Emma, who had dreamt and longed for city life, passionate love, ballroom dances, and wealth, condemns her only child, her legacy, to the life of a penniless orphan, sent to work in a cotton mill.

Flaubert writes Madame Bovary (1857) with such skill and realistic depth that while we laugh at the audacity, and despair at the mistakes, of Emma, we do not dislike her, or any other character. They are too human for the reader’s dislike. After all, most of us share in a hint of Emma, whether it be a desire for more, for wealth, for a passionate love, dazzling talents or a brilliant career. It is in this truth that Madame Bovary (Flaubert 1857) is an exemplary piece of realist literature; both in character, plot and writing style.

Further Thoughts on the Narrator:

Madame Bovary (Flaubert 1857) opens with the narrative being told from the first person plural point of view.

We were at preparation, when the headmaster came in, followed by a new boy dressed in ‘civvies’ and a school servant carrying a big desk. Those who were asleep woke up, and everyone got to his feet with an air of being interrupted at work. Motioning for us to sit down, the Head turned to speak to the form-master. (Flaubert 1857, p. 15)

The narration then soon changes to that of third person omniscient, quite seamlessly. It is noticed by the reader, certainly, but not disruptive.

The Beginning Hook:

I was instantly intrigued by Madame Bovary (Flaubert 1857) for one single, stand out reason. The book is titled “Madame Bovary”. The blurb enticingly states “Emma Bovary is beautiful and bored.” And yet, the narration begins with dull Charles Bovary. And then following that, two equally dull Madame Bovary’s; Charles’ mother, and Charles’ first wife, chosen by his mother. The curiosity to see when and how this mysterious other Madame

Bovary would come into the story is what kept me reading. That, and the humour.

On Constructing Reality:

Flaubert’s (1857) construction of reality is so thorough that when Emma, having had her monstrous debts revealed to the town, goes to beg money from the wealthy Guillmen, enters his house and observes “Now this…is the dining room I ought to have.” (p. 223).

The reader laughs out loud and sinks their head in their hands in disbelief. Emma is still (still!) not content with what she has in life. There she is, begging for money, and still she is hungering for more, more, more.

By this reaction from myself, as a reader, I realised I had become entirely sucked into the world crafted by Flaubert. He creates human characters, and describes a world so thoroughly, that the reader forgets that these are not helplessly foolish, fallible neighbours, friends or relatives of theirs, but characters in a book, doing what Flaubert makes them.

Another such scene that reveals, by personal reaction, how successfully real Flaubert has made Madame Bovary (1857) to his audience, is this one:

‘If you’d like to go in now and again,’ he said, ‘that wouldn’t be too ruinous, after all.’ ‘But it’s no use unless you keep it up regularly,’ she replied. And that was how she managed to obtain her husband’s permission to go into Rouen once a week to see her lover. (p. 272)

Favourite Quotes:

“And Emma started laughing, a ghastly, frantic, desperate laugh, fancying she could see the hideous face of the beggar rising up like a nightmare amid the eternal darkness. (Flaubert 1857, p. 337)

At last she sighed. ‘What can be more distressing than to drag out a futile existence like mine? If only our sorrows could be of use to someone, we might find some consolation in the thought of our sacrifice.’ (Flaubert 1857, p. 245)

Notice here, the great detail Flaubert gives, like a camera focusing on a scene, time and place, to draw the moment out and mark it as important, before panning over the rest of the setting:

In summer there was more of its shelving bank to be seen, and the garden walls were uncovered to their base, with several of the steps leading down to the water. The river ran noiselessly, swift, cool to the eye. Tall slender grasses leaned above it in a mass, bent by the force of the current; weeds streamed out in the limpid water like green wigs tossed away. Now and then some fine legged insect alighted on the tip of a reed or crawled over a water-lily leaf. The sunshine darted its rays through the little blue bubbles on the wavelets that kept forming and breaking; old lopped willow-trees gazed at their own grey bark in the water. Beyond, the fields looked empty for miles around. (Flaubert, 1857, p. 107)

Had they nothing else to say to one another? More serious communications were, to be sure, passing between their eyes. As they tried to make conversation, they felt the same languor stealing over them both, as if their whispering voices were being drowned by the deep continuous murmur of their souls. (Flaubert 1857, p. 108)

 

Reference:

Flaubert, G 1857, Madame Bovary, 3rd edn. Penguin Group, Australia.

Advertisements

Critical Appraisal of Little Snow White (The original Snow White, Grimm version.)

In this essay I will be examining Liberal Humanism, Marxist and Feminist literary theory in relation to The Grimm’s Brothers version of Little Snow White (Grimm, 1812). This analysis will include biblical and religious references, as I find those to be unavoidable when doing a critical analysis on Little Snow White (Grimm, 1812).

“The most obvious… way to think of literature is as verbal representations of the real world” (What is Literary Theory, p.1). This interpretation of what literature is correlates well with the discussions had in our introduction to The Critical Appraisal of texts- which led to the natural conclusion that language exists solely in the metaphorical world as a means of conveying to others what we experience in our physical worlds.

Given this interpretation,   it makes sense to think of literature as capturing the essence of human experience. Literature is an art that explores different times, lives, political climates, and social hierarchies.

This definition of literature brings me to my introduction of Literary Theory. Literary Theory is an important practice as it is the “interpretation of how literature makes sense of the (literal world) and, in turn, how critics make sense of such literary works” (What is Literary Theory, p.1).

So, what role do fairy tales play in literature and what is their relevance? What can fairy tales tell Literary Theorists of the world?

Keeping in mind the definitions I have given for what literature is, and what Literary Theory is, it makes sense to view fairy tales as a means of introducing and explaining the world to children. Fairy tales are tales of caution, tales depicting social hierarchies, tales that explore the role of men and women- and the values of both. And, as written by Jack Zipes, tales that “confront the injustices and contradictions of (the) so-called real world”. Zipes goes on to write that fairy tales “can be equated to the wish fulfilment and utopian projections of the people”.

As Literary Theory is the analysis of what Literature is saying of humanity and the world in general, fairy tales are immensely relevant to Literary Theorists even to this day. Fairy tales, myths and legends are at the beginning of the story telling culture- and the beginning of what Literature has evolved to. Fairy tales are also still a huge part of contemporary literature today.

In applying Literary Theory to fairy tales both ancient and modern, theorists may see how the world has evolved over time, particularly how society’s attitude towards children, women and religion has changed. More significantly, the comparison of ancient and modern fairy tales can show what has not changed, and what is implicit and reoccurring in human nature- something Liberal Humanism explores.

Feminist Literary Theory is primarily concerned with the representation of women in literature and the conditioning that entails. These representations in fairy tales tell boys and girls what are acceptable feminine attributes, and what are not.

The deconstruction of any text using a feminist approach involves focussing on what the text is showing about women. For example, what is their purpose in life? How must they act, and what characteristics of a woman’s are of value?

No work of literature could be more appropriate to revision by Feminist Literary Theory than fairy tales. Cinderella, The Little Goose Girl, Snow White and Rose Red, Rapunzel and Little Snow White- all these tales from The Grimm Brothers collection (1812)- are very telling to what was expected of, and acceptable behaviour for, women, especially given that these tales focus on female characters and were told to children. This was most likely to teach boys and girls of a young age what a woman’s value and place in life was.

Why did such fairy tales focus on females? As the cautionary tales that they are, does it suggest women required more guiding? And more warnings for caution? I feel confident in answering yes to that, as even today people urge women to be more cautious than men. However, in considering that the villains in these stories are also women and, generally speaking, queens and witches, does it suggest that knowledge and power in the hands of women is not only unacceptable, but dangerous?

Such stories could be viewed as advocating that women require to be kept obedient, sweet, domestic and innocent for their own good, and to ensure their own safety. I will now attempt to satisfactorily answer these questions and more in a feminist reading of Little Snow White.

There are two aspects to Little Snow White that are immediately obvious. The first is the double standard toward female beauty. Throughout the text beauty is portrayed as a most precious commodity in a woman, and is the central point to the story.

It is repeatedly stressed within the text how very beautiful both Snow White and the Queen are. For example, the Queen is renowned throughout the land for her beauty and daily addresses a magic mirror to ensure there is none more beautiful than she.

Beauty, ensures the tale of Little Snow White, will get you far. We see this when the hunter ordered to kill Snow White takes pity on her and kills an animal to present its organs to the Queen in place of Snow Whites. Why does the Hunter take pity on her? It is not, as you might think, because she was ordered to be murdered by her mother or because she cried, pleading for her life, and offered to run away instead. No, instead “The huntsman took pity on her because she was so beautiful, and he thought “The wild animals will soon devour her anyway” (Little Snow White, p. 1).

Then, when Snow White is found asleep in one of the Dwarfs beds they take pity on her because, on seeing her, “good heaven!” They cried. “She is so beautiful!” and they liked her very much” (Little Snow White, p.2) And finally there is the prince who becomes besotted with the beauty of Snow White’s corpse and carries it around with him until she is awoken, and then they marry.

The double standard arises when comparing Snow White with the Queen. In the case of Snow White beauty is portrayed as the most feminine attribute, and the most valuable thing a woman has to offer. However, a woman must not be vain. She must not be aware of or glorify in her own beauty, as the Queen does.

The story first establishes beauty is important to men but women must not use this to their advantage or be vain for that is evil and will lead to punishment. Punishment such as a being forced to wear iron shoes and dance to death. One might argue that the tale warns women to be each other’s heroes. Don’t be jealous. Don’t begrudge others; you may think it is saying. However, given beauty is stressed to be of the utmost importance, put yourself in the Queens shoes. Beauty is all that she is known for throughout the land. When that begins to fade, or be replaced, so must the peoples regard. Although we don’t read of The Queens background it is safe to assume her obsession with beauty arises only because it is so obsessed over by men, as proven throughout the text.

Instead of trying to hang onto her status as beautiful the Queen should give over to the other things women are valued for; raising children, being motherly, keeping house, sewing, cooking and cleaning- things that Snow White does readily.

Graf says “Fairy tales promote unhealthy sex stereotypes… They glorify passivity, dependency, and self-sacrifice. They promote a theme that is the inferior position of women and teach girls win the prize if they are the fairest of them all” (‘Reading Female Bodies in Little Snow White: Independence and autonomy versus subjugation and invisibility’, 2008, p.81).

Graf also writes that, in Little Snow White, “It seems the only role available to women, other than the submissive, abused, young protagonist, is one that defines women as devious, manipulative and therefor subversive” (‘Reading Female Bodies in Little Snow White: Independence and autonomy versus subjugation and invisibility’, 2008, p.81).

The messages in Little Snow White are not by chance- as stated previously these are tales told to children specifically to teach them about the world and their role in it. As Maria Lieberman writes “Fairy tales have only one function and that is to shape girls perceptions to conform to a gendered identity through stereotypical characters like the wicked mother and beautiful, helpless daughter” (‘Someday My Prince Will Come’, 1972.)

The tale of Little Snow White’s (Grimm, 1812) purpose is to teach girls, and boys, that women must be attractive to men, but not vain. Women must ensure they are demure and submissive, perform household duties and listen to men. This is backed by the scene in which Snow White is finally killed by the Queen- by ignoring the warning of the seven dwarfs with whom she lived and letting a stranger in. Little Snow White strongly presses the point that beauty and obedience are the only two things of value in a woman. A woman with knowledge and power is dangerous and woman who refuses to step aside for her more youthful counterpart is positively evil.

I now come to the second thing within the text that is immediately apparent; whatever critical theory you are applying within your review.  Firstly, Snow White eats an apple and dies. This has a strong comparison to Eve eating the apple from the tree of knowledge and being the downfall of women for eternity, and causing Adam and herself to be banished from the Garden of Eden. As is the message in Christianity so is the message in Little Snow White; Curiosity, knowledge and power in a woman is wrongful and fearful. This is also reflected by the wicked mothers and female villains in fairy tales such as Little Snow White being portrayed as witches. The Church feared and persecuted wise women and even midwives, accusing them of witchcraft.

To support this analysis of Little Snow White (Grimm, 1812) holding strong biblical references there is repetitive use of a biblically significant number; the number seven. Within the text there are seven dwarfs; Snow White is seven years old when she surpasses her mother in looks and the dwarfs live in the seven mountains. Most telling of all, are the dwarfs seven beds. As described in this passage “(Snow White) wanted to lie down and go to sleep. She tried each of the seven little beds, one after the other, but none felt right until she came to the seventh one, and she lay down in it and fell asleep” (Little Snow White, 1812, p.2).

This passage directly relates to the making of the world and the working week with the seventh day being a day of rest. Prior to resting in the seventh bed Snow White also eats some simple brown bread and drinks some wine- practices also repeatedly referenced in the bible. However, there are other aspects to the tale of Little Snow White (Grimm, 1812) more aptly covered by a Marxist analysis.

Marxist Literary Theory, as written by Peter Barry in ‘The Beginning Theory’, dictates that good art “always has a degree of freedom…from economic circumstances” although, it is acknowledged, such economic and social climates are the work of arts “ultimate determinant”.

Marxist literary criticism naturally drew a line between propaganda and art. However the prevailing thought behind Marxist literary criticism is to look at the context in which the text was written. What political and social implications are within the text? In what way has it been written?

In Little Snow White I will focus on a Leninist critical reading. Leninist criticism, writes Barry, “insists on the need for art to be explicitly committed to the political cause” (‘Beginning Theory: An introduction to literary and cultural theory’, 1995, p.154).

The obvious place to begin with Little Snow White (Grimm, 1812) is defining the class of the characters. The Queen, in this tale, represents a dictatorship. She has power over everyone, even Snow White who, along with The Prince, are capitalists. Their demands are met and they get whatever they wish from the lower classes. The Seven Dwarfs a prime example of the petite bourgeois. They work for themselves and have the ability to buy the labour of others however they are not as upper class as Snow White or The Prince. Following this cast is The Huntsman and The Servants of The Prince who are representative of the proletariat and the lower class struggle.

As it is in Marxist and the Bolsheviks ideology a communist revolution may not be possible without the rising up of the proletariat and we do indeed see this in Little Snow White. When the servants, tired of carting the corpse of Snow White around, pound her dead body and send the poisoned bite of apple flying from her mouth, Snow White is resurrected and thus able to marry a powerful prince and overthrow the dictatorship of The Queen.

The Huntsman represents the struggle of lower class between two warring ideologies. The Queen orders him to kill Snow White and he must obey. Snow White begs for her life and he is compelled to obey also. This importance on social standing is also reflected when The Prince only admires Snow White’s beauty and wishes to have her after he notes her coffin states that she is a princess, therefor upper class like himself.

The Seven Dwarfs are forced to let Snow White live with them, although they do require manual labour in return. This reinforces their position as depicting the petite bourgeois. Their social standing as below that of the Capitalists is reinforced when The Prince desires to have Snow White’s body for his own. The Dwarfs, of course, must accept.

Finally, at the end of the tale The Queen is forced to wear iron shoes and dance to death- iron being representative of the middle and lower classes labour and such, and dancing a leisure activity of the capitalists.  The dictatorship of The Queen is thus overthrown however the tale can be viewed as commenting on the failings of the communist revolutionary attempts for in place of The Queen is a new dictator- Snow White and her Prince.

Liberal Humanism, on the other hand strips back all these prejudices and interpretations. Liberal Humanist Literary Theory ideally looks at what is at the essence of the text, and what it says about humanity.

It can do this as Liberal Humanist literary Theory views literature as timeless; as well it might in the case of fairy tales as they have survived the test of time, numerous retellings and adaptations. In applying the first tenant of liberal humanism to Little Snow White we must look at what within the text displays as being constant in human nature. This is easy to spot in the story; the things that have remained throughout constant changes to the story are natural jealousy and fear of ageing. It displays the human instinct for survival, not wanting to step aside, be over taken and to hang on to life.

The second tenant is that the text contains its own implicit meaning; it does not need to be read from a socio-political context or a literary-historical one in order for its meaning to be grasped. The inherent meaning of Little Snow White, as a fairy tale of caution or pure entertainment, would be that all too obvious warning; don’t talk to strangers, although I think in this case the real message is to listen to your superiors (In this case the seven dwarfs).

It is also important to note that Snow White sends a religious message- or to apply it to any time- a warning to not do bad deeds. One must not be vain, greedy, gluttonous or envious there will be punishment. The queen is guilty of these sins when she wants to be the fairest of them all- displaying greed and vanity. She is envious in her jealousy of Snow White and gluttonous when she devours what she believes are Snow White’s lungs and liver.

I believe to view the tale of Little Snow White in a manner of “seeing the object as in itself it really is” (‘Beginning Theory’, 1995, p.17), is very difficult given in reading the text it is impossible to put aside the strong and constant biblical references.

When it comes down to it; do you believe in transcendent qualities? Does each individual have an unchanging essence that makes them so? Are some things in human nature entirely unchanging?

Some things, certainly. Our basic instincts, for example, are unchanging. However, today they are often over ridden by rationalisations and conscious thought. All our subconscious instincts and thoughts however probably remain shockingly unchanged throughout time.

The idolisation of beauty is one such thing. As Iris Murdoch says, “beauty is the only spiritual thing which we love by instinct”.

People all over the world and throughout time have always admired and valued beauty- and it is this instinctive appreciation that is timeless in Snow White.

Little Snow White (Grimm, 1812) also tells us, along with beauty, society values hard work, kindness and social ranking, fitting well with point six of Liberal Humanism that “the purpose of literature is essentially the enhancement of life and the propagation of humane values” (‘Beginning Theory’, 1995, p.17).

In conclusion, any form of Literary Theory can be applied to any text satisfactorily. It is important to take a step back from theory and to enjoy the experience that text is depicting and to remember language and literature in a Liberal humanist manner- as something abolishing the distance between words and things, as something that expresses our humanity and experiences in a way which will remain timeless and relevant.

Reference:

Barry, P 2002, Beginning Theory: An introduction to Literary and cultural theory, 2nd ed. New York: Manchester University Press.

Graf,  D 2008, Reading Female Bodies in Little Snow White: Independence and autonomy versus subjugation and invisibility, 1st ed. Oshkosh: University of Wisconsin .

Grimm, G, Grimm W 2011, Brothers Grimm: Little Snow White, 2nd ed. United States: Books LLC.

Zipes, J 2012, The Irresistible Fairy Tale: The cultural and social history of a genre, 1st ed. United States: Princeton University Press.

Zipes, J 2002, Breaking the Magic Spell, 2nd ed. Kentucky : University Press of Kentucky.

Followed

There is a gap between the shelf and wall where she stands bent down low and squinting at the books. She drops to her knees and pries one free, turning it over in her hands and, I assume, reading the blurb without so much as glancing at the cover. Here is a real reader-­‐ interested in the description rather than the cover art. A smile tugs at her mouth as she flips the book open and gazes intently at the open pages. I imagine her getting a feel for the writer’s style, a brief sense of the story from whatever random chapter she has discovered. She closes the book and tucks it under her arm before returning to gaze at the shelf. I have to smile. Her actions are as clear as her turning toward me and declaring “Yes. This book is a definite yes”. I glance down at my own book-­‐ a boring thing on psychology. Stuff studying, I think as I continue to watch Book Girl. She stays for ages intently searching the shelf, even pulling a few more books out and reading them at random, before finally heading toward the main desk to check the first book out. I wait a moment before packing up and leaving the library, to wait for her outside.

I lean against a tree outside the building watching a mother push her child past in a pram. The mother is young, and pretty. I meet her eyes and smile warmly. Startled, she blushes and quickens her pace. I shake my head. Some women are so nervous. I bet Book Girl isn’t like that. She appears before me, her dark hair lighter in the sunlight, and her tan pleasing against the white of her denim shorts. She heads toward the station directly across from the library and I follow. She must be local to the suburb-­‐ if she wasn’t wouldn’t she borrow her books from her local library? So she must be. Where is she going by train then? To visit a friend…or a boyfriend? My heart thumps hard as I imagine her in a boys lap. I imagine her soft kisses, the feel of her skin sliding against…mine.

She pays for a ticket and goes to sit on a seat halfway down platform two. I do the same and wait near an elderly couple arguing over how to use the ticket machine. In a matter of minutes the train heading to Flinders St arrives. The old woman starts screeching at her husband that he

forgot the spare change. I laugh quietly to myself. They’re going to miss this train. I am careful to make sure I saunter down to the same carriage as her. The train is practically empty at this time of day so it is easy to choose a seat directly across from her. I pull out my phone and pretend to be absorbed in it whilst flickering my gaze to her at every chance. Should I take a photo? I feel my pulse quicken and my cheeks burn. How could I do it without her noticing? I could just lift the phone higher and take one and she would never know. She might suspect though. She might shift uncomfortably in her seat, maybe even turn away or get up. She starts rummaging in her bag. This is my chance. I hesitate, my phone shaking in my hands, before quickly opening the camera app and snapping a blurry photo. She pulls out the book from the library and I can read the title easily, Cold Comfort Farm. What’s it about? It sounds like one of those spooky thrillers…cold comfort farm. Maybe an old guy has this sick farm where he has sex slaves or something. I like the idea of Book Girl reading something like that. She smiles as she reads and even laughs quietly to herself. What could possibly be so funny about it? It is a Penguin Classics and I have never liked them. They’re the books were forced to read in school, definitely nothing to do with sex slaves. I like that she reads and that books can make her laugh. She is probably one of those intense, thoughtful girls. Those are the best kind, I think. She bites her lip as she reads and reaches up to run her fingers through her hair dozens of times. She probably does that in bed too, the biting her lip thing. I’d bet anything that she’d bite me too. She tilts her head to one side, shifting her hair out of the way, to expose the delicate skin of her neck. A slice of light cuts across her bare throat.

“Now arriving at Dennis”, the voice announces over the speaker.

Book Girl jumps slightly and stuffs the book back into her bag. She gets up quickly only to stand at the doors to wait as the trains pulls to a slow, shuddering stop. I get off close behind her, close enough to smell her and breathe in her delicious scent as deeply as I can. My mouth waters slightly at the smell of her hair-­‐ coconuts and strawberries. I feel myself harden slightly beneath my jeans as her bag brushes across my arm. Now is not the time for that, I tell myself firmly.

Together we leave the station and walk a short way down a main road. Then she makes my breath quicken by turning into an alley. I follow as close behind her as I can, wondering if she is at all spooked by my presence. She hardly seems to have noticed me apart from a brief, distanced smile as we got off the train. Where is she is heading? She walks with purpose, swinging her hips. She even waves at two punk kids with hair dyed bright blue and pink, carrying guitars. They wave back but don’t stop to talk to her. We walk down two more streets, crossing a road and coming to a highway, passing several more kids. They are all unique in a similar way, with their messy, unnaturally dyed hair and black and torn outfits. Many have piercings and walk staring at the ground with their music blaring faintly from oversized headphones as they pass.

“Hi Paul,” she yelps to a tall guy with a pierced brow as we stop at the lights. She inclines her head in his direction, smiling hopefully at him as he lopes past. I glare at him, happy that he doesn’t seem to hear her. He had better not notice her, ever…

The lights turn green and we stroll across the road. Where are we going? We pass a sign that reads Yarra Bend Rd. it’s much quieter than the main road we’ve left behind. As we walk I notice dozens of other kids around and some much older people. Most of them are carrying papers and bags. I suppose that’s why she didn’t get nervous about being followed. She probably thinks I am a student here too. We pass a red bricked fence emblazoned with a large blue and white NMIT sign making a right turn and entering the campus grounds. So, she is a student.

“Hey,” I say and nod at her as we head down a path toward a small cluster of tables and chairs shaded by large umbrellas. She looks at me quizzically for a moment. I’m afraid she won’t say anything back.

“Hey.” She smiles warmly at me “What are you here for?”

“Oh. I’m…um checking it out. Y’know thinking of enrolling here…you?” I stammer. I cringe inwardly as I feel heat sting my cheeks. Hopefully it doesn’t show.

“I’m here for photography.” She answers, lifting a small camera case I hadn’t noticed tucked into her handbag. “What course were you thinking of doing?”

“Something in Psych,” I answer, praying they do that here.

“I didn’t know they did Psych courses here!’ she exclaims. She seems so excited about it and so happy to be talking to me. If only we were somewhere more private. “That must be one of the Higher Ed courses, yeah?”

“Yeah,” I nod. By now we have entered a small, crowded café “Anyway, I gotta go. I hope to see you around…?”

“Sophie,” she finishes for me. “Don’t you want anything? The coffee here is pretty good”

I grin at her eagerness and begin to turn away. What’s the point in just talking in a crowded café? All I know is her name…Sophie and the smell of her hair, and the way she bites her bottom lip, flicking her tongue out slightly as she reads. Hopefully she is intrigued by me. Maybe she will wonder about me all day, and go to sleep with me on her mind? Who knows? I can wait for her at the station later. I can wait for her outside the school. I can even wait for her at the library. After all, she will have to return that book someday.

Bubbles

My eyes snap open and I moan into my pillow. The room is dark but a gap in the curtains casts a grey light. I stretch my legs out, wincing as pain shoots up my right leg from the knee. I shut my eyes and take inventory of my bruises. I can feel my right shoulder aching. It will probably be the worst. It’s stiff and during the night it had ached. My left thigh is throbbing. I reach my hand under the warm blanket to stroke it. It’s a swollen lump.

It didn’t happen. It didn’t happen.

 Alice stirs in the bed beside me. I roll over to look at her. She is sprawled across the mattress; her head is on my pillow, her feet in his back.

Does he have bruises from that?

 An alarm starts chirping. I roll over to face the window, closing my eyes again.

I am asleep. I am asleep.

 I can hear him getting up, rummaging in his closet next to the bed. I hear a rustling as he pulls his suit out, then the door that adjoins our room to the bathroom slides open and he is gone. I turn my head to look at Alice. She is perfect. Her mouth parted in her sleep, long dark eyelashes sweeping her cheeks. Her plump hands are curled into fists resting near her face. She snores quietly. I can hear the rushing of water from the bathroom, then silence, then dishes clattering in the kitchen. Finally, the front door opens and bangs shut. The echo of the slam rings throughout the house. Alice snorts awake.

“Good morning, bubba.” I say brightly. I scoop her into my arms, kissing her chubby cheeks, and carry her out into the kitchen. The curtains are opened wide and a butter-yellow light pours in through the windows. We have the whole day to ourselves.

I make Alice breakfast. I tidy the kitchen. I do the laundry, taking Alice out to play in her pool whilst I hang out the washing. Sometime after lunch I start preparing dinner. I am careful to not use much capsicum. He hates capsicum, says the flavor overpowers the rest of the food because I always use too much. I glance up at the clock, 4:30 pm stares back at me.

I can hear that door slam again. Bang! And then the silence, his way of

communicating to me. Cautiously I approach the computer and turn it on, the machine whirring as it starts up. One word dominates the screen: password. I type it in, incorrect. His way of communicating to me also, the phones that have been unplugged and the password to the computer reset. I switch off the machine and hurry back to stir the pasta sauce, scared that I even tried.

I keep my own phone close, in my pocket at all times. I am lucky to still have it.

Should I ring again? Should I ring? Should I ring? But, what good would it do? What would I say?

 By five we are sitting around the table, eating the spaghetti. Alice has hers in the high chair. She has thrown her plastic fork aside and is using her hands, scooping handfuls of pasta and shoveling them into her mouth. Pasta sauce stretches from her neck up to her nose. She grins at me, reaching up to run a hand through her hair.

“Oh, Alice.” I sigh as she leaves a trail of sticky noodles. She laughs, picks up her bowl and throws it to the floor.

“All done,” she declares. I haven’t the heart to yell at her.

“Okay, darling.” I say, leaving my own bowl untouched. “Let’s get you cleaned up.”

Water slops over the edge of the bath, soaking into the pile of spaghetti-splattered clothing, as Alice kicks her feet in delight. I pluck some spaghetti from her hair as she bends her head. Wet curls cling to her cheeks as she licks the bubbles foaming on the surface.

“No, Alice. Yucky!” I exclaim, widening my eyes in mock-horror. I scoop some of the bubbles up and cover her in them.

“Yucky bubbles,” she whoops. I scoop some more and, holding them in my hands, show her how to clap and send them flying. I could sit here all night scooping bubbles and clapping- listening to Alice giggling. I turn around to check my phone, hidden behind my makeup bag. No messages, no missed calls. I meet my reflections gaze, worry and fear lurking in my expression. I can see my skin blackening already. I look away, unwilling to look directly. If I pretend it’s not there maybe I can pretend it never happened.

It didn’t happen. It didn’t happen.

 “More, more.” Alice whines, reaching a soapy hand out to me.

“Okay! More bubbles.” I force a smile, cringing at my shrill cheer. Thank god she is too young to notice. I hear a door bang shut and footsteps just as my phone rings. The ringing sounds too loud as Alice stops giggling. The screen shows my parents number. I reach for the phone, hesitating as I hear him outside the bathroom door. Alice stands up reaching out to me.

“Mummy?” she trembles. I silence the phone, throwing it beneath a towel, as the door swings open.

“I’m just giving her a bath.” I explain. “She was covered in her dinner, threw it everywhere…It was even in her hair.” I avoid his eyes.

“Where’s your phone?” he asks. I pause, not knowing what to do.

“I haven’t rung anyone,” I answer.

“Where is your phone?” he repeats, stretching out his hand. I reach down and pull it from beneath the towels. He takes it, looking at it thoughtfully.

“Missed a call from your mum, I see.” He says. “Been trying to ring her, huh?” Paralyzed by my own weakness, I choke back tears. Alice begins to cry.

“I have to get Ally ready for bed.” I squeak. I pick her up, wrapping a towel around her, and kiss her on the forehead.

“It’s okay, darling.” I whisper as I brush past him to the safety of Alice’s room.

It’s okay. It’s okay.

Breakfast Time

It is morning; after breakfast. The sun is up and pouring burning light in through the kitchen window, promising a long and hot summer to come. I am deep in my own head, as I often am. I don’t hear or notice anything around me. I’m worse when my head is in a book. When my head is in a book mum has to yell a dozen times for me to hear her.

“Use your initiative,” she yells. Using my initiative means knowing what she wants and doing it before she has to shout, “or else!” Or else! Is a belt on the leg, cool leather marking my skin, or a slap across the face, the sting of a palm on my cheek. This morning something manages to pull me from my own head. It’s a box of flying cereal. It lands in the kitchen, spilling sugary puffs of grain across the floor. Dad had already stormed out, leaving his empty bowl on the table. There is only my little brothers and I. And mum, standing in the pantry, mumbling to herself. I look from her to the cereal. Am I going to be in trouble? I get up, meaning to clear up the cereal and use my initiative.

“Leave it,” she orders, voice low and dangerous. Then comes a box of biscuits, a packet of noodles, then jars of tomato; crumbs and sauces and shards of glass splattering all over the floor. I feel a tugging on my hand and look down.

“I’m scared,” whispers Timmy. He is six and I am ten. Ben is four and too young to understand. I take Ben’s hand and the three of us run outside into the shining light. None of us have shoes on but together we run up the driveway and cross the road into the bush. It’s quiet here, and still. Green grass, fallen trees and hundreds of wildflowers as far as I can see. No one is throwing food and cups and knives here.

“What should we do?” Timmy asks, picking some blue flowers.

“Let’s pick her flowers,” I suggest “we can take them back and maybe she won’t be angry at us” but what I really mean is maybe she won’t be angry at me.

“You should give mum the flowers,” I tell Timmy as we all pick “she never hits you”

“No, it should be Ben,” he says quickly “he’s the youngest. He’s mum’s favourite”

We start back home, walking slowly. The ground beneath our feet is a dusty red contrast to the blue sky above us. I feel sick with fear as we approach the house. We find mum curled up on a couch. I nudge Ben forward and he goes to her, flowers held out.

“I got you flower”, he says in his baby voice. Mum reaches out and pulls him to her lap, hugging him. Timmy releases my hand from his iron grip and rushes over to give mum his bunch.

“I picked you flowers too,” he says. I am angry and scared now. I don’t have a bunch to give because I had helped to pick theirs and tied them into bunches using stringy grass. They’re cuddled up to her now; safe and happy. I hang back in the doorway but mum looks over at me anyway. Her eyes find mine. Hers are a green and filled with hate. Wanting to cry, I look away.

A taste of Madness

Lisa blinks rapidly against the ache in her throat. She can’t cry. She glances around the room as the sound of the shower stops. Her mother’s handbag is perched on the bed next to the neatly folded nurses’ uniform. Lisa opens it and fumbles with the zip on the little pocket inside, meant for lipsticks and other things, and now home to The Pills. Lisa opens the packet and pops them into her hand; ten of Clozaril and twenty of Zoloft. The Zoloft could be easily pumped from her system if anyone found her but the Clorazil was lethal. She stuffs the empty packets back and slips from the room. Annemarie arrives a second too late, glancing around the room.

“Lisa?” she calls.

She opens her handbag and unzips the same pocket. The packet is there, winking reassuringly up at her. Annemarie closes the bag and slumps on the edge of the bed. If Paul were here I could have taken time off work…

Annemarie pokes her head around the door before leaving.

“Lisa, honey, try to eat something today, ok? And remember you have your blood test this afternoon.”

“Okay Mum.”

“I love you.” Anxious voice, eyes filling.

“I love you too, mum.” Voice flat, eyes downcast.

“Bye, honey.” Annemarie turns from the room, mind drifting to work.

“Bye.”

Lisa is alone. She opens her palm and looks at the pills. What do I do?