Hot Desk Extract: Fuji

As part of the Wheeler Centre's Hot Desk Fellowship programme, Jamie Marina Lau worked on a novel, Fuji, exploring entertainment culture and its interactions with virtual reality technology and the webcam industry.

The book is a middle-aged actress’ navigation through the hierarchies of the biggest global industry in a near future. It's set in sandy and overheated Los Angeles; merged with the familiar nothing-spaces of cheaply commissioned virtual simulations.

Photograph of a dirty Los Angeles taken from the Hollywood Hills

Image: Scott Limbrick (modified from a photo by James Gubera, CC-BY-SA 2.0)

Part Four: Apartment

1

THE CHILD WAS NOT EVEN OLD ENOUGH TO WALK when the mother first locked the door of the apartment up and stocked the pantries and the fridge with tins of protein and fibres of different sorts. She’d listed all the different ways they could move around the space to make up the total 10,000 steps recommended by The Health Council, and she listed all the different ways she could bring sunlight through and store it here so that her child was full and growing on vitamin D’s.

My dearest brother, she wrote in a message. If you’d like to visit you may, but you must be clean and you must not bring anything in without my exact permission about the objects.  

There were sunflowers on the coffee table but they’d die, and she’d go on to keep them there to harden and shrivel but made sure they would not mould. A few years later they were in a glass case in the living area. One day she caught blue moss where the yellow petals met the brown floss and opened the windows up to put them out from fifty storeys high and a stranger in a rain jacket would have it fall right where they were going to step.

There were sunflowers on the coffee table but they’d die, and she’d go on to keep them there to harden and shrivel but made sure they would not mould.

She stood one arm out the window, the wind grabbing it. She touched the glass from the outside with her fingers and felt it was cold, and dusty. She brought it back in and stared at the film of yellow powder swirled into her finger. She went to wash in the kitchen sink immediately, three times and grabbed the glass container marked on the counter, took two capsules. The child was in her room, she was doing school in there. She was 7 here.

The child had gotten freckles, and the mother took up her days reading forums for why this was.
The sun through the window, someone suggested.
The mother wrote back: but the curtains are often down, at least, and the windows are tinted.
The mother wrote: I think she’s been sneaking up to the rooftop in the mornings before I wake up, but even then, there should be no sun. I’m awake before the sun. Is it possible that she’s gotten so little sun, that the invisible sun burns her and freckles her?

The sky for the last few days had looked like it were stuck in a pink wound. The mother closed the window and watched as the lights switched on from every building around them, and across the harbour, on the other island.
She called for the child to come out, ‘Baby.’
The child appeared in her doorway and flinched when she came from her bedroom carpet onto the tiles. The hallway lights under the front door, yellow.
‘Why aren’t you wearing slippers?’ asked the mother.
It was never shouting here, because the neighbours would complain, and neighbours are neighbours for life. The child looked a kind of blue.
‘Baby,’ repeated the mother, softer this time and drew the child’s head onto her stomach, squeezed. ‘Why aren’t you wearing the slippers?’ The apartment was nearly all dark now, how quickly each day seemed to fall back down again.
‘Because,’ said the child, ‘I’m too warm today.’
The mother checked the child’s temperature by pressing her lips to the child’s forehead and then to the cheeks. ‘Today is the same temperature as every other day, I made sure. It’s just your imagination.’ 

They sat down for dinner with the Bach floor lamp on in the corner, tangerine lighting.
They sat on tatami mats with their legs melded together like kneeling, called se-iza in Japanese. The child had learnt this, but her ankles hurt.
The mother had learnt to serve raw meat. They ate chicken sashimi tonight. The child complained of the smell. Then the mother covered it with the dark brown sauce in a metal dish and a pinch of sugar and then the child ate it with her fingers. Most of the food was eaten every night and not stored away for a later date; this is how it’s to be.
After dinner that night, the child still wouldn’t wear the slippers, and claimed then that she couldn’t find them. The mother organised for the child to look until she found them, or she wouldn’t get to meet her friends in the online simulation tonight. The child looked everywhere, pulling drawers out and unpacking cupboards, her clothes all over the floor. All of this silently.

 

  

The mother walked around in a singlet and her underwear, sometimes nude. She rolled on an aerobic ball then smoked privately with the windows open in her bedroom. She stood on the tip of her toes so that the smoke would diffuse out into the open air, her cigarette ejected, the smoke being hassled by wind.

She stood on the tip of her toes so that the smoke would diffuse out into the open air, her cigarette ejected, the smoke being hassled by wind.

The child was crying, looking ecstatically around now, throwing her cream jumpers from one end of the room to the other. Something else was bothering her, her mother was already in her bedroom, probably playing in her simulation, swimming in an ocean or a lake with her friends – that’s why her door was closed.
She started to really cry at the thought of that. Then the mother came in, she was wearing nothing and smelt like something different. ‘You have to be quiet,’ the mother said, pulled the child close into her stomach, squeezed. Then she released her, shut the door, and left her there.

The mother meditated on heated tiles, her palms open. Her perfect pearl skin. She applied sheet mask that smelt like salad, stared at the loose white face hanging off her own face in the mirror, injected herself under the brain, meditated again to a surround sound of cicadas coming from every corner of the tiled room.

Portrait of Jamie Marina Lau

Jamie Marina Lau is a writer from Melbourne. Her debut novel, Pink Mountain on Locust Island was published this year by Brow Books. 

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