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Hot Desk Extract: Diving Falling

As part of the Wheeler Centre’s Hot Desk Fellowship programme, Kylie Mirmohamadi worked on the manuscripts of her novels The Guest House and One Diving, The Other Falling.

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This excerpt from One Diving, The Other Falling draws together some of the novel’s themes: art, memory, the complex and sometimes traumatic nature of sexual and family relationships, and the meanings of home. It is told in the voice of its protagonist, the writer, Leila Whittaker, who is the widow of a prominent Melbourne artist, and it reveals the fragility of the world which she has been building for herself and her family in the wake of his death.

It was almost a relief when it finally happened. Magnus’s car pulled up in the driveway as I was dividing the orchids that sat in pots near the front balcony. They were one of John’s few concessions to a vague prettiness in his landscaping; mainly, I suspected, because there was something of the female genital in their appearance. I waved a grotesquely-gloved hand, spraying some potting mix around. A weekday visit, and unannounced, was an unusual thing for us. Magnus knew that I liked to write in my pyjamas with unwashed hair.

‘This is a nice surprise.’

He said that it wasn’t, and that he had something to ask me.

‘OK,’ I said. ‘I do have a phone, you know.’

‘Are you seeing someone else?’

‘We’re not married, Magnus.’

‘No, but are you seeing someone else?’

He scratched his eye. Standing in my driveway then, he looked less attractive than I had ever seen him. He looked old, and harsh, and brittle, and some spit came out of his mouth when he spoke.

‘Yes,’ I answered his question.

‘Remy?’

‘Yes.’

‘How long?’

‘A while.’

‘Is he still with his wife?’

‘Yes.’

‘So neither of you gives a shit about anyone else?’

‘Come on, Magnus. No one is destroying anyone’s life.’

‘The sex is worth it, then?’

I’m not sure how I was supposed to respond to that. ‘It is’ didn’t seemed appropriate. But neither did ‘it isn’t’.

‘I didn’t think you could be such a deceitful bitch,’ he said.

Name calling, already.

‘Well, I obviously can.’

‘After what that cunt did to you, for all those years.’

‘This is about me, not John.’

‘Everything about you is about John. You have no existence outside him.  You never will.’

‘Magnus,’ I said. ‘Let’s not finish like this, if we’re finishing.’

If we’re finishing? You’re fucking someone else, Leila.’ He brought his hand down, hard, on the bonnet of his car.

‘OK. I’m going to end this conversation now.’ I pulled the dirty gardening gloves from my suddenly recalcitrant fingers and draped them over the rim of the pot of orchids. It looked like a still life. A dull one.

 

My instinct told me to remove myself from Magnus’s anger, but I also did not want to be, alone, inside my house, so I sought refuge – as I had before – with other people. I walked down to the studio, and was grateful to hear voices from within, even Lola’s.  The two of them were standing at the workbench, leaning over to look at something on its surface. I noted, as I knocked on and pushed open the door in the same movement, that Lola was not maintaining between her and Charles the distance that she usually kept between herself and every non-Sebastian male body. That lifetime of wariness, of vigilance. She had faith in this man. Noticing me, she beckoned for me to come over.

‘Look, Leila. He’s added to the world.’

‘I think I’ve just subtracted from mine.’

Neither caught my cryptic message.  They were concentrating on the carving.

‘A family of seals,’ Lola gushed. ‘Look at their tiny faces. Lei, pass me the magnifying glass. God, they’re so adorable, I want to die.’

‘I had to shuffle …’

Charles’s narrative about his creative decisions was interrupted by an aggressive knock at the door. I wanted to call out ‘no’ as Charles made for the door and opened it, but instead I recalibrated, looking quickly to Magnus’s face to make the necessary assessment. I had seen that look before. Do all angry men transform into each other? The man standing at the threshold of the studio was all potential, all reckless energy. Charles must have registered that too, in the very short time that it takes the brain to make such calculations of risk, as he stepped in between Magnus and me, the sphere still in one hand, the other outstretched.

‘She doesn’t need protecting from me,’ Magnus said, still moving into the workspace.

I do, I signalled, silently, to Charles and Lola. Especially Lola. Women have an unspoken comprehension, don’t we?

A large magnifier stand impeded Magnus’s progress into the room, and he pushed it out of his way. Its wheel brake had not been engaged, and it careered towards us on the sloping boards that John would never see to, and struck Charles on the elbow, propelling the carving out of his hand. It hit the floor, with a cracking sound, and small pieces from it were sent scattering across the wooden boards. Magnus must have heard that sound, and the utterance of distress from Lola, behind me, like a keening, but he did not even glance downwards.

‘You just needed to tell me,’ he said to me.

‘I know.’

‘Do you know? About her and your father?’ Magnus asked Charles, who was standing as if immobilised, looking at his damaged work, the shattered world. ‘Fucking,’ Magnus added, helpfully.

‘No.’

‘Well, now you do.’

And then he was gone.

 

Image:
S. J. Peploe
Still life (c. 1904)
oil on composition board
26.7 × 34.6 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1946

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The Wheeler Centre acknowledges the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation as the traditional owners of the land on which we work. We pay our respect to the people of the Kulin Nation and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders, past and present.