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The secret diaries of Snow-White (second edition)

Haidee Kruger

Loss
I've lost it,
I think in the middle of the night when I wake up because my spine feels twisted.

I turn on my left side first, then my right, then my back. Left side again. I haven't slept on my stomach since I was a child. I put my leg over yours, then under. I can't find the right place for my arms. They feel unnecessary, glued on like an afterthought. I braid them together and put them between my legs.

You are supple in your sleep. You turn with my body; it's as if we're a single cell pushing against the thick membrane of the duvet. My skin is an awkward fit - too big, too small, too scratchy, too slippery. Your body winds up like a clock. My backbone is a spring waiting for release.

If only it wasn't winter.

In the undecided space between night and morning here I can hear trains. I can hear the humming electricity of high-tension cables. Occasionally a factory somewhere detonates black dust into the air with a dim shudder that, for a second, makes my synapses stand on end. The cold immobilises the agapanthuses. Our house contracts. The tendrils of the child's dreams surface audibly in the next room.

I've lost it,
I think. I put my left hand on my stomach and my right hand on my left breast. There's no movement. My fingers are cold, like I've been typing for too long in a room remote from the rest of the house. They give off a faint smell of garlic and oranges. They feel like a dismembered memory surfacing, like a familiar tongue behind the mouth of an ex-lover.

I've lost it,
I think.

In the morning I walk to the kitchen on blue feet.

Tips for setting out
I imagine that the beginning is the hardest - getting your luggage out of the cupboard, deciding what the weather is going to be like, whether you need inoculations, whether to pack exclamation marks and semicolons.

All while the hollowness knocks about inside you.

It's best to be brutal and quick about it. Take a change of underwear, a toothbrush, a pencil. Perhaps an axe, or stilts, depending on the territory. Feed the cats. Lock your door behind you and walk as fast as you can. It's the lingering, the hanging about that will get you, strap you in, clove hitch you so you will be unable to do anything except lean against your front door, listening to your keys ringing like white noise.

You will find a map quite useless, so you may as well not bother delving through your drawers looking for one. Besides, the risk of being swallowed whole by the gaping mouths of train tickets, photographs, pipe tobacco, sticky tape and sonar pictures is too real.

Take a deep breath,
and step outside. Feel the landscape of your skin change.

Travel notes
Knots
A working knowledge of knots is indispensable. Not only for tying things up, but also for untying yourself when necessary. And it will be necessary. Acrobats, sailors, escape artists, boy scouts, serial killers. They'll tie you up in knots and then leave you hanging. And when it happens you'll be grateful for knowing a chain hitch from a surgeon's knot, a fisherman's eye from a double sheet bend.

Believe me.

The object of desire
It may be useful to carry an image - photograph, DNA sample, etch, bagged evidence - of what it is that you seek. Memory slips, twists, roots elsewhere. Before you know it, it will have put its passionate embraces around something else, its tongue in something else's mouth. You will forget why you have set out.

Put the image somewhere inescapable - perhaps in your underwear, so you can feel it chafe against your skin, and so you'll be surprised by it every time you get naked.

Words
Don't pack any. You will find enough along the road, and will be unable to resist picking them up and putting them in your pocket. And you shouldn't resist. These are the words that will stick in your foot, leaving a secret scar that not even your lovers will know of. The heavy ones are good for killing things. The lighter ones can be thrown tinkling against windows as a soundtrack to clandestine sex on park benches. Some of the prettier ones you may want to sew onto your clothes, or perhaps swallow them.

But be careful. Some of them may look harmless enough, but should not be handled without the necessary protective clothing. Many look, smell, taste, feel like one thing, but are also something else. Or many other things spinning really fast.

The body is easily hoaxed. The body is a hoax.

Recovery
It's early afternoon in a bar above the city. The light hums.

I am a triangle: foreign body to the left, familiar body to the right. I'm not sure which hand belongs where. I bend down from my high chair, ostensibly to check whether my bag is OK, but really to escape the unsettling brightness. Under the table it is cool and muted. I take a few minutes to catalogue the debris - cigarette butts, an opened but unused condom, a pencil, a dead moth, a few trampled words from the night before. They are scruffy and unpretty, but I pick them up anyway and stuff them in my bag.

You never know.

When I surface over the table-top, the foreign body is looking at my hands. They are dusty, with black gunk under the nails. My left thumb has a cut; the cuticle of my right pinkie is chewed into the flesh. He recognises my secret preoccupation, though he won't speak it.

We drink beer and talk about as many things as we can think of, triangulating the distances between us all the time. We pack towers of words on the table, taking turns to pull out the bottom ones. We laugh at the perfect rubble, though we are aware that it may not be what it seems. We don't mind optical illusions. We drink more beer.

Somewhere in the middle of it all an odd sensation seeps up from my stomach. It feels like a woollen blanket unrolling in my belly; like hot chocolate being poured into the space between my ribs. I feel covered, wrapped, enveloped. Listening closely, I swear I can hear a ticking sound coming from my chest.

I excuse myself and go to the loo. It's smelly, and there are some filthy words in one of the basins. I pick them up and stick them in my pocket, where I can feel them squirm. I choose a mirror where the light falling through the small window comes in at an angle. Leaning into my reflection, looking really closely, I can see a pulse in my neck. I put a finger against it and am surprised by the throb of my skin. I unbutton my shirt and watch the movement above my left breast.

It takes a while before I can button up my shirt and my face. I'd known it would be unexpected, but I hadn't thought it would be so simple, so domestic. No climax, no corpses, no crime, no catharsis. Just gone today and here tomorrow.

Nevertheless.

I go back to the table. I kiss them both. They are sweet and warm like wood.

I say goodbye and walk to the mailbox on the corner. I write my address in black ink above my bellybutton, and send myself off in the direction of home.

Return
There's the oak tree, the frost cover over the agapanthuses, the old newspapers blown against the fence. It's early evening and coal dust drifts in the air.

It's as if I never left. It's as if I haven't returned.
Yet.

You open the door and your hands are a portal. I step over the threshold into you. Against your body I measure my beat.

Later I show you the words I have collected.