:: Article

Chest Open

By Tristan Foster.

On the grass with our heads together under a Port Jackson fig tree that is trying to fill the sky. I slip the camera out of my pocket and take a photograph of the moment.

*

Embarrassed smiles as naked we straighten the crumpled bed sheet. She leaves the room for the bathroom and while she is gone I feel around for the camera and take a photo of the bare bed. She comes back in after the flash has lit the dark and frowns and I say sorry and shrug and put the camera away but want to take a photo of this moment too.

*

It is early morning when the call comes. I hang up. At first I do not remember but I remember and take a photo of me having hung up. I get dressed and tell her I will come back soon and call her if it is not soon.

*

Sunlight makes the bright room glow almost neon.

I pull stray hair that isn’t mine or that of anybody I know off my clothes. Freed from heads and caught on the wind only to stick to me. I shake out my scarf and pick off a single short hair dark like mine dark like the hair on my head and on my body.

I can only think of a chest open with ribs splintered.

Body. I give thought to this simple word body. Think what it means and think about my body in this hard plastic chair and his body and the bodies around his body trying to fix the body that he has partly left lungs open to the world.

The surgeon holds it in her hand. Holds this piece in her hand still warm and carved off bloody chest open and puts it on a steel tray that reflects the light as white as hell.

Brain asleep chest open kept alive by the wires and the secret thoughts of machines. Chest open to the air and rib bones splintered under the electric saw. Lung piece carved off like leg ham. Skin sluiced and pegged back to show inside. A finger quivers then knee caps twitch and a part of him that is being carried away for biopsy. Chest open with a radio on. Her favourite channel because the hum helps the surgeon think as she operates. Music and ads about sales and talkback help when there is a chest open before her like a meal. Alien light from somewhere else lighting the chest cavity. Assistants breathing into their masks staunch bleeding and monitor the body with a chest open and time on watches while their coats become dappled with blood from the body of the man. Their telling of weekend stories among the electronic beep of life and radio music because it is a job for them while this body is open.

Flecks of sweat glitter on my fingertips. There is pressure on my bladder and my feet are cold. An eyelash caught on the left breast of my shirt. I brush it off and want a god that blows a distant wind to whisper a prayer to. I want a small god like a kitchen corner Hindu deity to reject and be mad at if I must be mad. I hope I do not need to be mad. Damp under the underarms. Heart alive in my chest circulating blood. The sound of wind at the window.

Chest open. Oxygen is fed into the working lung while this man this unconscious body of a man remains in deepest sleep.

I feel the rush of impulse. I dry my hands on my jeans and tug my thoughts back from the room and slip the camera out of its cover and take a photo of this moment. I think of taking a photo of the moment in which I take a photo of the moment. I scroll through the other photos I have taken to take my mind off what I am thinking and think about taking a photo of me scrolling through the moments I have taken photos of.

A nurse calls my name and I follow her to an office where she stands beside a cluttered desk and tells me news that is not good and asks me if I have other family I need to tell and if she can help do that. I nod and say that will be nice and I slip the camera out of its case.

*

I walk by the highway past car lots with flags fluttering and words in fluoro paint painted across the windshields of the cars to my home a long way from here but I am walking.

*

We crowd around the coffee table. I am watched from eye corners while they pour drinks and spill alcohol wetting the tablecloth. I smell sweet dope and one of my friends smokes with another friend on the balcony. They talk for my benefit and I join in where I can. They are here for me and I want to tell them it is not needed and to go away home. One of them proposes a toast and I put my hand over my eyes while we touch glasses. I take a photograph of us friends here in the starkness of my living room. After glasses have been emptied I say to them I am leaving for a while going away and they go quiet and I take a photo of the glasses and bottles of grog on the table.

Late night a friend pulls me out of the flat and down the stairs and we talk under a street light. I have my hands in my pockets and he talks in my face. I nod but have left the camera upstairs so I tell my friend to wait and that I will come back but he says forget it.

When the others have left we sit in silence while the television plays. Finally she says she may not be here when I come back if I do this and we both let this breathe for a moment. I ask her what she wants me to do then. Hurt she says she thought I was different to this. I sniff and clear my nose and touch the area of my chest where I imagine my lungs to be. Then I take the camera out of its pouch and take a photo of this.

She says to me what the fuck are you doing put it away so I get up and pull the suitcase off the top of the cupboard and open it up on the floor. Halfway through packing I take a photo.

In the morning I lean my backpack against my suitcase in the hallway. She calls me a coward she says this is a cowardly act. She watches as I take a photo of me being cowardly. She says I think I am justified now in taking these bullshit little pictures. I say yes probably now I suppose.

*

I sit at a sooty table on the roof of a Saigon hotel with sweat rolling down my calves. The only other people up here are a smiling Chinese couple in blazers and matching sunglasses and a bartender polishing glasses. I sip at a perspiring gin and tonic with a wedge of lime that the bartender squeezed over then dropped into the drink. While I cannot see them I can hear the swarms of scooters twenty floors down. The sounds of their horns rise up like the wailing of damned. Somewhere up here is a pool. I am aware of the splash of a stroke a kick or the crackle of water hitting pavement as a swimmer climbs out to dry off. The wind whips in every direction and most of the other buildings are squat and out of sight so it seems like I am on the rooftop of a skyscraper in hell.

What Saigon calls to mind I have not found here. Saigon Saigon. Ho Chi Minh they call it now as if it were the man with the beard of wisps. Maybe that is why I have not found smoky bars with lanterns or Vietnamese women in traditional dress and make up maybe that is somewhere else. Maybe it is Hollywood. The sky is a pure grey wall of dull aluminium light that does not look like ever parting for the sun that I can barely open my eyes against. I make a mental note to buy sunglasses off a walking street vendor. I breathe hot air deep into my chest. Neon lights burning through the dark and paper parasols. I tinkle the ice now small slivers the shape of tiny canoes in my drink. Singapore Slings I think and think that maybe I am confusing Saigon with Singapore. If so I have been wrong this entire time but I am here. I wonder why the fuck I have come and remember to take a photo I take a photo.

The Chinese couple sit only a few tables away. If I spoke they would hear.

A blast of air blows across the hotel rooftop and rattles the umbrellas and attempts to uproot the decorative plants. I finish my drink and take a photograph and turn back to the bartender in black tie and vest to indicate that I want another. I imagine him cupping the lime and squeezing the juice into my drink before placing it in with something like love.

Smiling young women at reception tell me every morning what I should do with my day like we are old friends and they know me and I nod and say that what they have said sounds like a good idea.

I know now I like to be driven past things to get a glimpse between palm trees. Peering out of a taxi window feels more right than being in somewhere significant and led around by a guide who is unaffected by the heat and more right than knowing it in this way. A glimpse that impresses a single frame of it into my memory even before I can get my camera ready.

The Chinese woman has put her sunglasses on her head and is touching up her lipstick. I see her eye looking at me in her mirror. I squeeze the camera out of its case but before I can take a photograph the bartender arrives and replaces my empty glass with a full one.

I tell him to charge it to my room squinting into the horizon. The bartender presents a receipt for me to sign. I tell him up here it feels like I am drinking gin and tonics on Mars and look towards him but not at him and when he has no reaction I wonder if this was not a polite joke. He leaves me to the locust buzz of bikes in the wind the horns like safari birds while sweat runs down to the small of my back.

The Chinese couple stand up out of their chairs and walk past me to leave leaving me alone here. They pass and for a moment my throat feels like it has been stopped up clogged with something and a tear comes from my eye running down to my mouth salty on my lips and tongue. I take up the gin and tonic and lob it soft at the sky but firm and the gin and tonic and ice and lime wedge form a momentary arc. The glass disappears noiselessly over the edge of the building with a glint of grey light as it is sucked into the vacuum below and the gin and tonic and ice slap the tiles and the ice breaks and the lime tumbles and would be the only evidence that this has even happened and that I was ever here if I did not take a photo.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tristan Foster is a writer from Sydney, Australia.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, February 28th, 2013.