I came into the world head first, which is nothing out of the ordinary. I couldn’t do much with my body, so I just observed things with my brain, which was still soft. My eyes were huge and unblinking, and reflected from a low angle my mother’s skirts as she paced around the kitchen, my father’s exposed socks as he sat largely motionless at the table, occasionally skewering something with his fork. He opened his mouth to eat like a fish caught on a hook, the corner of one lip moving down towards me each time, like I was tugging some fishing wire between my tiny fingers, willing my imaginary hook to pierce his lower lip completely.
For it was he who had named me: Bingley. Bingley Maxwell Essop. A title somewhat above my station, but still somehow below my expectations.
My mother fed me soft foods and eventually my skull hardened. The kitchen smelt of mushy apples most of the time, I crawled on my hands and knees, my neck grew strong enough to carry my head, which did seem quite massive, compared to the rest of me. So soon enough I could pivot my gaze in any direction, and watch the footsteps of my parents as they came and went.
I was always a slender boy, my school shoes would tap painfully against my bony ankles as I walked. Grey woolen jumpers hung off me like they would a Dickensian orphan, like I hadn’t been fed enough gruel. And then a few years, decades, later my concave waist became convex. It just flipped from in to out one day, and then I knew I was middle aged.
My digestion started to play up, so my wife, Bessie, put me on one of those FODMAP diets. Red peppers were repeating on me, for days after I ate them. Bessie started to suspect that I had a leaky sphincter. No, not the one at my end, not my arsehole, the one in the middle, the valve between your esophagus and your stomach. The one that helps you process things in a healthy manner. It wasn’t working for me, things just kept coming back up. My sharp tongued Bessie said it was a fitting metaphor, for all my emotional issues.
Well, I said to Bessie, that my body didn’t serve as a metaphor for my emotions, if anything it was the other way around. My body was the primary thing, not just a stand in, secondary thing, that existed to give meaning to some emotional existence that we both shared. It was mine, and, it was the only thing that I would have to the end.
I would look forward to chopping onions, because that’s the only time I would cry freely, standing alone at the kitchen counter, not caring if my neighbours were watching me through my illuminated windows. The picture was as clear to them as it was to me, I was just a man chopping onions.
No onions allowed on a FODMAP diet, so I fucked that off. I became less restrictive about when and where I farted. I loosened my bowels, but tightened my morals. Surprisingly it was the latter that drove Bessie to leave me. She didn’t understand why I couldn’t let go of all the big questions in life, like why are we here and all that. She didn’t understand why I wouldn’t just think about something simple, like what I wanted for breakfast, what I could have that wouldn’t repeat on me, again and again. I know the neighbours were looking through the windows: oh that Bessie and Bingley, at it again, are they?
The closer to death you are, the more disgusting your feet get. As a baby, people would kiss the soft skin of my soles, my parents, extended family, it was normal, to kiss a baby’s feet. In the middle I kissed women’s feet, dozens of them. I like the way they arched and wrinkled against my lips, I put the toes in my mouth, of the ones I loved. Now I wished never to see my own feet again, I haven’t taken my shoes off in years.
I realised I could avoid everything that bothered me. I’ve been avoiding my neighbours too, since I started living in the underground train station. I just lie here, horizontal on the bench, my cloudy eyes reflecting from a low angle the footsteps of the passengers as they come and go. Nobody bothers me, tells me what to eat or think.
I never did figure out what I could eat, or think, that wouldn't repeat on me, incessantly, unprocessed.
There was one thing I could do though, that would only happen once. I could climb down on the train tracks, point my shoes towards the oncoming Werribee line, and go out on my back, feet first.
A Beginning, a Middle, an End
by Phillippa Finkemeyer
About the Author
Phillippa Finkemeyer is a writer and editor who lives in Berlin. She was shortlisted for the Grace Marion Wilson Writer’s Competition in 2018 and her short fiction has been published in Mojo Literary Journal, Merzbau Magazine Italy, and Berlin-based zine Nothing To See Here. She studied Publishing and Editing in Melbourne, Australia.