A Room Called Earth

Madeleine Ryan



I decided to wear a kimono and high heels to the party because I wanted people to see me in a kimono and high heels at the party. I tried putting chopsticks from the kitchen drawer in my hair and it felt like it was overdoing things a bit, so I put them back. I even considered painting the chopsticks black because they were brown, and black would have suited my outfit better. Yet the fact that I considered painting them at all caused me to be embarrassed at myself, so I decided to ditch accessories that were at one time used to stuff pad thai into someone’s face. Painted or not, you can’t change the reality of what chopsticks are or the main way that they’ve been used for, like, centuries. Eons, even. So let a chopstick be a chopstick, and my hair can be what it is, too.

I’ve fantasised for days about wearing this kimono and these shoes and tonight is the night. The shoes are high and patent and black and shiny, and the kimono is red and silky with sleeves like wings. I guess the sleeves are a part of a traditional style, or whatever. It’s just that my only association with them is that they’re like wings. I don’t know why they’re so wide, or if that has some kind of practical aspect to it, and, you know, who cares.

I’ve put a tight black spandex skirt underneath for modesty. Well, it’s a half-hearted gesture in the direction of modesty. I’m not wearing underwear of any kind because that would be ridiculous.

The people who are going to see this outfit and me in it are both known and unknown to me. I mean, I’ve been invited to this party. Like, I’m legitimately allowed to be there. It’s just that my self-image is in no way going to be constrained by knowing too many people in attendance. I won’t be readily identifiable to the majority of the crowd, so who and what I am can remain undefined, and expansive.

And, right now, from my perspective, the people who are going to be there are made up of Futuristic Shadow Beasts Without Faces that are deeply impressed by me. They make life worth living, because I can decide exactly who and what they are, from this place of having no actual idea. I can just imagine them, and dress for them, and have high expectations of them, and envisage the amazing connections that I might have with them. And I hope that all of the Futuristic Shadow Beasts Without Faces are currently giving themselves the same rapturous, pre-party experience that I am. Because even if we don’t get a chance to meet, or to talk, we can remain in a state of wonderment together. My dream is to leave people wondering, and nothing more. It’s safe, it’s sexy, and I want to live there forever.

Mystery is my favourite accessory.

As I get ready, I keep looking over my shoulder just in case someone walks into the room unannounced. My music is loud, and I’m worried that someone will knock and I won’t be made aware of their presence until it’s too late, and who knows what they will have witnessed or, worse, how they’ll perceive what they have witnessed. I don’t even want to think about it.

It’s one thing to be humiliated for my own reasons and a whole other thing to be the catalyst for someone else’s sense of humiliation. I really don’t want to take on that responsibility. I’ve always felt a strong inclination to smooth things over for the people around me, and now I’ve become terrified of the prospect of having to do so at all. I’m not really wired to care for other people unless they ask me directly because, in any given situation, I’m either completely immersed in myself, or completely immersed in someone else. There’s no in-between.

Anyway. I keep sensing footsteps down the hallway and it’s fucking annoying. They’re echoing around my ribcage, and, I mean, no one ever walks in. How did I get to a point where I feared that they might? Every strand of hair is standing on end and my neck is moving like a magnet towards the door. Why? Is it self-obsession? Paranoia? Anxiety? My inner processes can be visceral to the point of being completely illusory, and absurd. Thankfully I live with a cat called Porkchop who is a very grounding influence upon me.

Porkchop is ginger and his job is to sit on my bed and stare at me, and he’s very good at it. It was a self-appointed position, and he never lets the team down. I once read in a book that we need to be wary of growing too close to animals, because it can reveal a lack of closeness with our own species, and, around the same time, a boyfriend read aloud a section of a novella, which said that people who empathise with the animals involved in bullfighting don’t empathise with human beings — like, at all — and that they’re more likely to be psychopaths. We were in his kitchen when he shared this with me, and I remember taking a deep breath, from my shoulders, and quietly mashing more clumps out of the guacamole.

Connection with my own species has been difficult. I’m more at ease with the animal part of myself than the human part of myself. I feel at peace when I’m with Porkchop. I have no concerns about what he might or might not be thinking, or what might or might not happen next. Porkchop is always clear about his wants and needs. They aren’t hidden behind lies, or delusions. They’re right there, in the sunlight, wanting a tummy rub. Or, they very obviously prefer tuna to sardines, because the sardines are left on the plate and the tuna isn’t. Or, they’ve carefully positioned the ball of string at the bottom of the stairs, because it’s playtime.

Porkchop and I access a sense of wholeness that I rarely experience anywhere, or with anyone else. Our non-verbal union recreates the stillness of the respective wombs we left long ago. We can’t be all that different, really, because we pretty much came from the same place, and now we’re here, living in the same place, and one day we’ll die, and end up in the same place.

Porkchop must feel the same way, because he doesn’t go anywhere. That cat barely moves due to being so overcome with contentment in our space together. Everything that he does, and every sound that he makes, and every bit of smoked salmon that he licks, and carefully chews, suggests the utmost confidence in his decision-making capabilities. I see no reason to question Porkchop’s level of commitment. I can trust the satisfaction that he experiences at my side, because when people or things want to move on, they just do.

Porkchop is also a potent reminder of why I don’t eat anything like, or associated with, pork chops. I look at Porkchop and I feel safe in the knowledge that I don’t eat his kind, or take what wasn’t given to me by his kind. Porkchop isn’t a sandwich, and he doesn’t belong on a barbecue. He’s a cat, and he lives with me. Just like all of the animals living alongside humans everywhere, every day, all the time, at every corner of the earth. Not just in houses or on farms. They’re in the sea, and in the air, and in the jungles, and rainforests, and in the native parklands, and in all of the other places that animals are, which is heaps and heaps of places. We’ve all ended up here together, and that’s all there is to it, because that’s all the knowledge that we have about it.

Symbolically, Porkchop is ‘every animal’ to me and I love him dearly. Look at him. He has a little soul, which has an agenda that miraculously involves staring at me all day. I feel so blessed.

Sometimes when he sits on my lap, I tell him that he’s a god, and he shuts his eyes with what I’m sure is a gentle, appreciative knowing. We’re all gods, and the ancient Egyptians withheld from those who refused to accept that.

An ex-boyfriend once said that I should ‘stop trying to be Holly Golightly’ with my cat, and I said that he should stop relating everything back to the first pop-culture reference that pops into his head, because it won’t make him any more relevant or useful to the tribe. And relating me to a man-made fantasy of womanhood said more about him than it did about me. He’s in advertising now where he belongs, and we spent a year together that I don’t really think about unless I’m talking to my therapist.

A Room Called Earth Madeleine Ryan