Hot Desk Extract: Hope
As part of the Wheeler Centre's Hot Desk Fellowship programme, Angelina Mirabito has been working on a novel, Hope, about a young woman with chronic bulimia.
In this extract of the novel, the protagonist reflects on her early childhood and the death of her twin sister; a tragedy for which she blames herself. She also reflects on her eating disorder ('ED') and its impact on her adult life.
Mum spent all her money on our clothes and things that made us look sophisticated but whenever we had food in the cupboards it was home-brand, reduced or expired. Our birthday was no exception. It took me a long time to understand we were supposed to appear rich even though everyone could see we lived in a granny flat that belonged to the local librarian and her father, The Grouch. He was infamous for finding things to complain about. No-one wanted to serve him at the local shops so his daughter had to do everything for him. Her patience with him was endless. No-one understood why she never stopped trying to please him or hadn’t put him into a home.
Honey would imitate how grumpy The Grouch got in a way that made it funny instead of scary. When he rubbed his fat stomach in front of the TV while he dozed off, mumbling about how bad a cook his daughter was – ‘Just like her mother’ – it made me afraid for his librarian daughter, who had the saddest smile I’d ever seen. That’s why Honey turned it into something funny, she never liked me being afraid because she wasn’t. She said scaredy-cats never get famous and we had to become famous so we could make Mum happy.
Honey was making fun of The Grouch before we finished rehearsing the Giselle ballet dance routine Mum had choreographed for our seventh birthday. We wanted The Nutcracker but her favourite was Giselle. She had us learn and practise dancing twice daily because she wanted us to continue her lineage of great Australian classical dancers.
It had never occurred to me that we were separate people until Honey stopped breathing.
Mum’s family had disowned her the moment they found out she wasn’t going through with the abortion. I don’t know how Honey found that out but she was always acting like Inspector Gadget's daughter, Penny. She was the one who told me we were the bastard kids of a man who didn’t dance and who left Mum before we were born. It would take years for me to understand what that meant.
Mum said if we just made a name for ourselves her family would let us in, but I’m not convinced. It’s definitely possible they would’ve fallen in love with Honey, at least. Even people without hearts loved her. The Grouch cried when the ambulance took her away. When his librarian daughter tried to console him he pushed her away and put his axe through the letterbox. For the first time, I wasn’t scared of The Grouch being The Grouch. I just stood there staring, wishing he’d put that axe through me.
Honey didn’t live long enough to realise that we brought shame on our father’s family who were really important people too. That’s why he ran whenever Mum turned up near his work, insisting that he just look at us. But he never did. He just turned his head and acted as though Mum was a crazy lady he’d never seen before, so there was no way we could really be his (even though the five paternity tests he insisted on proved that we were). I was 15 when I found out that our father is genius-smart and we would’ve interfered with his career and the kind of life he was raised to live. I read all his psychology books, listened to all his online lectures and talks and understood none of it. That’s why I’ve been studying psychology, so I can understand how to get rid of ED.
No-one knows I’ve got ED so bad I’m scared most nights that my heart will quit beating in my sleep. I’m scared because ED can’t be the thing that kills me. Then everyone will find out I had ED and ED, like what I did to Honey, is my secret.
It was hot. Real hot after Honey and I finished learning the dance Mum gave us. Our white dresses were full of sweat and stuck to our skin in the late afternoon heat. We had no air-conditioning or ceiling fans in that granny flat without a couch, coffee table or TV, so we had no distraction and room to practise. At night, to escape the heat and boredom, we’d climb up to the granny flat roof and name the brightest star after Honey, I still do.
We always shared a bubble bath. This time Honey was talking about how great being seven was going to be. We were big now.
‘Mum said we can walk to school without her tomorrow. But don’t worry ‘cause I know the way.’
Honey would’ve said that even if she didn’t know the way. It didn’t matter. I never worried when I was with her. She always ended up knowing what was going on because she wasn’t afraid and a found a way to figure things out. She splashed me and laughed. I splashed her back and realised I was laughing too.
We shared everything the way we’d originally shared the space inside Mum. It had never occurred to me that we were separate people until Honey stopped breathing. Even now I still find it hard to believe we were ever two bodies. That’s when Mum, and everything else, was complete – had meaning – and I could feel. Without Honey, there’s no Hope. There’s just a hologram that looks like me. But I can’t digest food, produce a period, shit without an enema, dance, love or be alive. It’s just ED who breathes, not me.