This is a Writers' Other Jobs post from Mia-Francesca McAuslan.
Sometimes there’s blood on the pillow, sometimes there’s snot on the walls, condom tangled up in the white sheets and dirty socks left on the bed. The showers are the worst, the paste they make me scrub with, gritty and thick. I came to New Zealand to write but I spend four hours a day cleaning to pay for my top bunk in a small room shared with six others. If that was minimum wage it would mean that technically I’m paying $80 for my bunk. The heaters only turn on for ten minutes at a time so I have to unfold myself from the warm blankets to turn them back on and it’s my job because I’m the closest (and the youngest). The Christchurch Cultural Festival is across the road in the city square but I can’t afford to go, so when I finish my cleaning sometimes I sit outside and listen. There are no days off. I strip bed after bed and carry big blue bags of linen down the cement stairs. Tuck the fresh sheets in hospital style, strict and firm. Collect alcohol and small bags of weed from just-departed traveller’s drawers and sit on the roof with the other suckers, spitting on the people below and getting drunk and high on other people’s stuff.
These dogs are rescues, corgi cross border collies. The owner is paranoid, over-protective, and gives me a daily diary to fill in bowel movements, moods, interactions. The owners, a childless couple, have filled the emotional hole with canines. She sings to them and they howl at her. She is delighted and I put my hands over my ears, squint my eyes. She says it’s good to be excited in life; it’s good to sing.
Image source: Flickr / creativelenna
Dogs are untrusting, but I have food. I know how to win over an animal. I looked it up on the internet. When I got the kitten I brought home turkey from the deli and slipped it slices in between my fingers. I take the dogs to Yarraville Park, let them run off-leash and spend the whole time terrified they will fly away, that a car will come streaming through the wire fence and find a way to connect two wheels with two dogs. They always come back. I sling the ball and they run. I sit on the grass and write, their owner haunting me in the back of my head. It’s a hundred dollars a week but my rent is only 350 a month so it’s enough. Just. My boyfriend works as a removalist, spending his days with his hair in a ponytail carrying around rich people’s furniture. I spend mine with the dogs for two hours, sort of like a nanny. Sometimes I take them to cafes and pretend they’re mine; pretend I’m a real writer with a real job and these are my dogs that I can afford and am stable enough to own. I drop them home. Fill in the date of the diary and tally up the piss and the shit.
The only experience needed: ‘waitressing’. And yes, there’s waitressing. Carrying plates, sometimes three, setting tables, taking orders, and making drinks. But the first thing about the job is to unlearn everything you know about waitressing. Unlearn the crime of being still. Unlearn the race of taking orders, the effort to be invisible. Draw instead from the memory of being a fifteen year old girl learning to walk. Learning to walk like a woman, in golden brown heels, nimble and pointed. The sway of hips, the swing of body, the bounce of breasts. Exaggerate womanliness. Play dumb. Laugh and smell like a girl, slather bare arms in vanilla scented moisturizer, line dots of perfume along inner thigh and black laced underwear. And from each man whose lap lays open like a cushion and whose wallet leaks colourful notes- take a story. Write of yachts and fetish clubs and swinger’s parties. Write of racing horse killed by a spider, of wives who sleep in the attic, of children who go to school camp in Thailand. Pretend you’ve never heard these jokes before, and slide down wine racks landing softly on wide suited thighs, caught roughly by large brown hands. Bury red-lips into red-neck and whisper dirty jokes. Unsure if the plastic thing stuffed into panties is a fifty-dollar note or a bag of coke. Feel infinitely small, as though you are a bird in the palm of a giant and go home drunk, drained, defeated. Pour money from the tip jar into the book on your nightstand and pour words onto the page.
The talk about changing wives over every twenty years, trading them in as if women are perishable or terminal things. Stories emerge from this place. Maybe it has something to do with the intimate setting, with a capacity of only 35 people and it doesn’t come close to reaching full capacity. Inside the red carpet and frosted glass, men leak money and lies. Many men have read my palm here and I wonder if it is a well-known secret or pick up trick they use on girls. Two have told me that my life-line is long, but my wealth line is non-existent, and I wonder if this is enough evidence to get a study support scholarship.
I wonder if this is enough to be a woman. If this is enough to be a writer.
Mia-Francesca McAuslan has studied at the American University of Paris and is currently completing a creative writing degree at RMIT. She has been published in The Morning Bell Journal, Yowl and is a contributor and co-founder of Kumiho Collective, which is releasing its first volume in late 2014. She is now settled in Melbourne’s Northern suburbs with her loyal companion, Banjo Catterson.
The website for Kumiho Collective is being launched this week and will be www.kumihocollective.com
Sam van Zweden was Writers Bloc’s Online Editor from 2013 - 2015. A Melbourne-based writer and blogger, her work has appeared in The Big Issue, Voiceworks, Tincture Journal, Page seventeen, and others. She’s passionate about creative nonfiction and cross stitch. She tweets @samvanzweden.