White Rabbit Pie
All the way home from work, Josie dreamed of running.
Scampering across afternoon streets on padded paws. Eyes alert, nose twitching, skilfully dodging cars and pedestrians alike. The wheels below her, propelled by internal combustion, turned relentlessly. Round and round in an insistent cycle, encountering potholes and speed bumps, juddering at traffic lights and negotiating curbs. Air rushed in through open windows and out again through the little ventilation fans set along the rooftop. Inside her, a small, fierce breath came in, then funnelled out in a tight flaring of nostrils. A racing heart pumped blood to muscles and nerves. Legs spasmed forward; clutching and retracting; tensing upwards before shooting out again. She was like a Stretch Arnold toy with fur and bones. Like a rubber band with bucked teeth and splayed toes.
Josie would never read a magazine on the bus because it made her stomach do flips. Nor was she the one to engage in idle conversation. People around her would begin with tentative threads of small talk, all well intentioned. But, inevitably, they dropped away, tangling themselves into private silences. She found that staring out the window awarded her little more than a revolving panorama of trees outside houses, hedges outside mansions, and shrubs outside schools. Roads bisected or looped back from crescents, streets resolved themselves in the same predictable ways, often arriving at roundabouts. Simply watching all of this was useless to Josie. The bus passed through a tunnel. Suddenly, the outside world was gone; the windows had become mirrors. One man was able to study the briefcase of another man seated in a favourable trajectory to his eye. A young girl, seated at the back, could watch a boy, seated at the front, as he gently revolved a silver ring on his right hand. Josie closed her eyes.
To Josie, sleeping and dreaming were always the preferable alternatives to thinking and worrying. She figured she'd had her fair share of worry, and, where possible, intended to keep future worrisome things to a minimum. After what she considered a healthy period of rebellious youth, a string of intense but short-lived romances and one failed marriage, she thought to herself: 'time to seek out a little stability.' The family ideal, the house of rampant kids that she jokingly told everyone she wanted, was abandoned as just that: an ideal.
In this town, she lived in a one-room apartment. Mrs. Zampetti, who lived upstairs, would often come down with a tupperware container of leftover ravioli, obliging Josie to eat. Mrs. Zampetti told Josie that she worried about the future of a woman without a husband, but more specifically, a woman who had nobody to cook for. Josie refrained from telling Mrs. Zampetti about all the men she had cooked for, their variety of tastes and appetites, and how she had taken great pleasure in formulating the perfect recipe for each one. Since leaving these men, she would have liked to explain to Mrs. Zampetti, the kitchen had lost the gloss of old romance, and had acquired a more alchemical meaning.
Unexpected comfort was found working as a sales assistant at Officeworks. In the quiet moments in the shop, Josie's favourite pastimes were drinking multiple cups of tea, depositing little stickers from the pricing gun all up her arms (only to then carefully peel each one off), pressing the 'cancel' button on the till to hear its pleasing little bleep, and politely excusing herself to use the toilet after all those cups of tea.
She prided herself on being able to recite the cost, mark-up and retail price of practically every item in the store, from the smallest paperclip to the largest build-at-home shelving unit. In particular, she had fallen in love with the executive chairs. She would sit in them all, taking a perverse pleasure in disrupting their clear plastic packaging, before hastily smoothing their surfaces, in case a customer noticed. She was, of course, heartbroken at the appearance of a real-life executive needing a new place to park his backside. With the casual handing over of that gleaming plastic card, it seemed that one of her children was being abducted.
The job also kept Josie from being yanked back to the city, a place, she had decided with some relief, where she had never really belonged. Busting to leave home early, following the course of a Greyhound coach—that was easy. Falling in love, falling out of love, those things were easy, too. It was harder coming home. All the shopping centres were fresh with unfamiliar faces. Her only relation, an aunt who had died whilst she was living overseas, now lay buried in a well-ordered cemetery with a sprinkler system that kept the lawns verdant. It seemed that everyone she'd ever know had either died, moved on to greener pastures, or both. Mum and Dad, having paid their debt to society, had sold their house and retired to the coast.
'You're such a lucky girl,' Dad would say, 'And you know that you've got potential, don't you?'
'So many opportunities,' Mum would say, 'I only wish that I'd had the same.'
In her scampering dream, Josie stopped for a moment. Muscle, hair, bone and nerve froze at the roadside. She bit at nails with teeth that were always growing longer. They tasted like dry earth, like dust, and like blood. She had bitten too far and her paw was now bleeding. There were spots of red along the bitumen.
Josie opened her eyes, awake.
The bus had stopped; all the other passengers were gone. She looked out of her window—and, for a moment, she didn't recognise this view. The broad curve of a hill swept from left to right, unimpeded by a single tree or house. If it weren't for the slightest dimple of soil—an entrance to a feral animal's burrow—she might have bumped her head against the horizon.
Turning in his seat, the driver addressed Josie. 'Well, here we are then.'
'Thankyou,' she rubbed her eyes apologetically, 'I can see that.'
Slowly, deliberately, she began the short walk home. She had the perfect recipe in mind.