That Other Eveline

  • a short story

That Other Eveline pic

I went into that place to pass some time but I really know that I went into that place to see if a man will look at me in that kind of way. You know the way I mean. I know I’m pretty and people keep saying it so I know but when I look in the mirror I see someone completely different. That doesn’t bother me because I’ve heard my own voice out of a recording machine and I didn’t sound like me either but people say that’s you Eveline so I know it’s me at the same time that I don’t know, but I do, that it’s my voice, my reflection. That’s how I’ve learnt to distrust what I see and hear. It isn’t rocket science. Anyway in I go and I’m aware that my hips are doing this kind of sway-y sexy thing that I don’t remember telling them to do but they are doing it alright and so I add a smile and a shoulder thing to boot. Then as I’m easing my arse onto a bar-stool like I’m turning over a plump apple cheek in a pan of frothy butter I think where did I learn to do this, but I’m not doing it for somebody! No. It’s just me walking and sitting. Yeah, right. I’m doing it for everybody, you stupid dipstick. Yet I’m just sitting here minding my own business but I’m aware that there are a lot of eyes on me, heads full of eyes, but I’m not doing anything, I’m not saying anything, I’m not given anyone the look. I say this to myself and at the same time I know it’s the truth; I also know it’s a lie but nobody knows that because nobody’s a mindreader; but then again it’s that other Eveline I have to mind. That voice of hers so soft and butter-wouldn’t-melt that I usually slip and thoughts and words like all-sorts fall out. 

I usually order a G&T because that’s what I like to drink but tonight I order a margarita. I like them too but they’re too expensive for me but at the same time as I’m saying to myself let’s have a margarita that other voice is also saying to myself you just hope some nice man will pay for it come the adding up time. 

And speaking of nice, it isn’t long before I can feel a dislocation in the air all around and I’m aware there’s a man sitting next to me. I don’t look up in case they see something that isn’t there but I can feel him folding his arms on the bar and resting his head with his eyes to the side looking at me like a boy does when he wants something he’s not allowed, something from his mum. He says something and so I have to look and I have to smile, it’s what I’ve been taught, and I know then, as clear as I know I’m sitting on it; I know what’s going to happen this night. He has a nice face, what I can see of it. He looks like a nice man. 

Now there’s a phrase, a nice man. I truly believe that they exist but something happens to nice men when they think that your look says something you don’t want it to say, when you know damn well they’re right but there’s that no-mindreader evidence again and so I sit there and sip my drink with my arms held in tight so my tits bulge like water wings. I’m just sitting having a drink. 

He asks me about my work and I tell him I’m a lab assistant in a research station, which is true. He says I don’t look like a lab assistant and I say of course I don’t, I’m not wearing my lab coat. Nice doesn’t necessarily mean smart.

You can tell by the look in their eyes, they’re looking at your face as if that’s the cause of it all, but it’s not really it’s what’s under my clothes and between my legs that they’re thinking about. What are they thinking about exactly? Are they picturing it in their mind’s eye? Funny isn’t it: it’s not what they see but what they can’t see that sends the blood racing into the dead-end making them touch their crotch or are they egging it on? So it’s all up to what they think is there. Then I suppose one vagina is very much like another, yeah, but it’s always the baubles and the arrangement of the icing on top that marks the difference between a cake and a tart. 

Like him his room is nice. Comfortable. Warm light, lots of books with a neatly made bed through an innocent-looking doorway. He offers me a drink. I agree to a G&T this time. Perhaps it will settle that feeling in the pit of my stomach, like a flapping fish gasping for air, like a hunger, like an ache. Of course, he puts on some soft music. I want to laugh, he’s seen too many set-up videos and I think how did I get here like a helicopter dropping rations to starving refugees. I was somewhere else and now I’m here. The other one tells me to relax, enjoy it. It’s nice. Nice.

We don’t make it to the neatly made bed. I wonder sometimes which voice is really me. It’s confusing. I sometimes hear myself saying stuff that I’d swear was coming from someone else. I didn’t say anything when he said he was only thinking of me. He refused a condom and so turned me over. What could I say to a nice man’s consideration? At least the pain stopped that fish flapping in my guts.

I don’t know how I got to the hospital and thought of the helicopter again but that’s when I met Rhonda. She told me she was a police officer. I said she didn’t look like a police officer. She said she was off duty and held my hand and tried to get me to remember what happened. I didn’t want to tell her because well because I wasn’t sure which voice to use or more accurately which voice would come out. She asked a lot of questions but I wasn’t very helpful. I didn’t know his name the other one said I couldn’t remember I never asked. I didn’t know where he took me although I did remember the time, two minutes to two. She asked if I meant 1:58 and I said yes, but her question made the other one laugh and I lost Rhonda for a moment. She didn’t ask any more questions. While they were stitching me up I remembered that it wasn’t the time it was the room number 222. Did I remember it because it was the time as well? I don’t know. Eveline thought it didn’t matter but I thought it might be helpful.

When Rhonda showed me into the interview room there was another woman there. She was called Valerie and was very adamant that I didn’t call her Val. I admire that. I decided to tell my mum never to call me Veeny it was Eveline or nothing. The other one snorted with disbelief but more like contempt. She was right of course.

Rhonda and Valerie talked a lot as if I wasn’t there which I found comforting and annoying at the same time. It was then that the other one got the better of me or really, I let my guard down a bit. I said that I really wanted some company that night and that…

Rhonda cut me off, almost shouted. She said Eveline! Eveline! and I thought for a moment that she knew which one of me was speaking. Eveline! Stop! I could see that Valerie agreed with her. Rhonda leaned forward and took my hand as if she was going to tell me something that would change my life. It did.

She said in a voice like a new mum that I wasn’t to think like that. I wasn’t to talk like that. I said quietly as if I really had spilt the milk that I thought I was supposed to tell the truth. Rhonda leaned back and she and Valerie shared a look that said shouted is she ready to be told? We have no choice came back the look. Rhonda shifted in her chair and a loud noise filled the room like drilling teeth.

She said look Eveline and I knew this was going to be good. She said that women had to be very careful about which truth in which context. Valerie shook her head the tiniest bit and interrupted as if she felt a translation was needed and told me that what was true was only true to those who believed it to be true. I asked if what she said meant that there was more than one truth. Yes, she said. Many said Rhonda. I could understand this since really there were two fish flopping in my guts but since I never really trust what I hear or see I knew I had to adopt just one truth. I had come to my senses and push the other one back a bit and so I told them that I was just sitting at the bar minding my own business and I met a man who seemed nice and I went to his room because he seemed good. It seemed like a date. But then he had anally raped me when I insisted he wear a condom and he refused. Wasn’t that considerate? interrupted the other one. Don’t say that said Valerie and I knew I had to be stronger.

The fish flopped but only a little bit. I had never been in a courtroom before. It was nothing like on TV. It looked like a church meeting room. The man was there looking like a little boy and the other one felt sorry for him but I was stronger today and I pushed her pushed her right down and refused to listen. The man didn’t speak but a tall thin woman spoke for him. She described my clothes and made them seem like nothing, holding in nothing and they were exactly the clothes that I wore but she described them as the clothes the other Eveline was wearing. Everything she said was true but it was the other Eveline’s truth. I knew that. Rhonda knew that. Valerie knew that and the tall thin woman must have known that too but she was stronger. She made me realise I too had to be stronger. I had to choose the one truth that was the only truth that would help me.

When I spoke, I did exactly what Valerie and Rhonda had told me to say. How to say it. What to think about when I said it. How to look when I said it. I chose. I told the truth.

The tall thin woman and the man talked together for a long time and the judge got a bit angry. The man then spoke and I knew that he had not seen me. He had not talked to me. He had not raped me. He had raped Eveline but not me; and I knew that he was really a nice man but he had seen the wrong one and I felt a little sorry for him but I know now that this is wrong of me to think this.

There are still two flopping fish in my stomach but one is much bigger than the other and I know now that this is right. My name is Eveline and I know what it true.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

American-Iranian writer, Ottessa Moshfegh (O te zar  MOSH feg) 

I love page 1. This is what I learned from page 1. The female unnamed first person narrator sleeps. When she is not sleeping she slips out of her apartment whenever it might be, day or night, and picks up coffee (stimulant), trazadone (anti-depressant), Amdien (sleeping pills), and Nembutal (more sleeping pills) from a 24-hour bodega. She takes them all, along with animal crackers, while watching movies until she falls asleep. When she thinks of it she orders Thai take-away. Sometimes she hears her phone messages which are, mostly, confirmations of  appointments for spas or salons she has made in her sleep. She cancels them. She hates talking to people.

This all sounds like she’s on a slow slip to depression and eventual suicide. But no. I find out on page 7 that her attempt at hibernation is quite the opposite: self-preservational. She hopes that while sleeping all her cells will re-new themselves, re-align themselves – every one of my cells regenerated enough times that the old cells were just distant foggy memories –  so that after a year she will wake up a whole new person with none of the hang-ups, fears, denials, hatreds, annoyances, incapabilities, sensitivities, regrets, and pain of the old one. 

There are other characters too, her best friend Riva, her on-off-on-off boyfriend, Trevor, and her psychiatrist, Dr Tuttle. All, like the protagonist, are bonkers. Or are they just typical Manhattanites in the 21st Century?

By the end of chapter 1 everything is set, and set up. 

At the beginning of chapter 2 we’re back to the beginning of the project. She feels excited, hopeful, and fully prepared for her great transformation

Of course, this being a narrative our first person protagonist often wakes up and the narrative consists of her methods of getting back to sleep again, all drug fuelled. Exercise? Caffeine was my exercise. It catalyzed my anxiety so that I could get back to sleep again. She also wakes to visit her psychiatrist, Dr Tuttle, who’s also mad as a cut-snake and writes down our narrator’s nightmares, which are all a pack of lies and mainly cobbled-together-fragments of bad movie plots, all intended to get more, and stronger, prescription drugs. Actually all her answers to Dr Tuttle’s questions are lies. 

“I was wondering if you could prescribe something a little stronger for bedtime. When I’m tossing and turning at night, I get so frustrated. It’s like I’m in hell.” She lied. 

“Hell? I can give you something for that.”

Her growing armoury or medication, prescriptions and samples from Dr Tuttle, have names like the siblings in second-rate Greek tragedies: Solfoton, Infermiterol, and Zyprexa. 

Not only do we find out what she does when she wakes up, but we also find out what she’s been doing when she’s been asleep: going out for coffee and drugs; ordering Chinese takeaway; rearranging her furniture; buying multiple tubs and multiple flavours of Häagen-Dazs ice cream which she forgets to eat or put in the freezer; booking Brazilians and fake tans; and chatting to guys on dating websites and getting, in return, closeups of their genitals. Thankfully, she too thinks this is going too far and gets her ditzy friend Riva to change her AOL password to something random and confusing so she won’t remember it. She hates Riva, especially when she talks. No, that’s not true, she really loves Riva. Well, actually, she hates her. Erm …

She’s obsessed with Whoopie Goldberg and old movies with predicable plots.

With all these pages of finding numerous ways to fall asleep they are surprisingly entertaining. It’s a hoot! But if you want your fiction characters to be nice and normal, don’t read this book. I wouldn’t want any of them at my lunch table. Nor would you. Trust me!

In fact, one of the attractions that kept me interested was what gross and/or outrageous thing was I going to read next? One day she wakes up in a new fur coat, the smell of which gives her the odd suspicion that she’s had sex with someone; and with a bunch of roses … on a train. 

Of course, the narrative of My Year of Rest and Relaxation is actually what she does between bouts of sleep, she even goes to Riva’s mother’s funeral. A book about sleep would be very thin, this one isn’t.

Moshfegh came to the attention of the literary world with her 2015 novel, Eileen, which won the Hemingway Foundation / PEN Award and was shortlisted for the Man-Booker Prize; however, The Irish Times reviewer hated it. Erin Cressida Wilson, who adapted Paula Hawkins’, Girl on a Train, for the screen will tackle Eileen for film producer, Scot Rubin. 

Here’s a short interview with Moshfegh talking about My Year of Rest and Relaxation.

You can buy the book in various formats, including the kindle version, here


The Congress of Rough Riders by John Boyne

John Boyne pic
Irish writer, John Boyne, writer of the wildly successful, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2006).

John Boyne, among many things, is an adventurous writer, and by that I don’t mean he writes adventure stories – despite the title of this one; he is adventurous in what he choses to write and how he writes. His books have included historical figures and events, stretching time, multi-narratives, contemporary issues, varying sexualities, hysterically funny scenes, teary climaxes, novels for adults as well as young readers. The Congress of Rough Riders (2001) is a double narrative; one concerns the latter life of William Cody, aka Buffalo Bill, the other concerns his great-grand son, also William Cody, but born in England and who forever is trying to separate his contemporary life from his famous ancestor’s.

However, it is his second published novel, and it feels like it. It is a sweeping saga that sweeps lightly over its subjects. I was engaged and entertained, but not deeply involved. I’ve read his last two works, The Heart’s Invisible Furies (2017), his best (so far), and A Ladder to the Sky (2018); I was deeply involved in both of them – in fact I sank so far into them, especially the former, that I didn’t want them to end. Riders, however, felt like a novel of a writer that was nurturing his talent, gaining confidence, and honing his skills, destined for greater things, which I can confidently tell you, he  has.

He also has the enviable skill of looking at a historical event or character from an unusual angle, and if the historical truth doesn’t allow such an angle, well, he alters things a bit so it can. This I feel is the way of a true novelist. His literary palette is boundless, as it should be. He is fearless.

With 17 books in 18 years he is no slouch and having just, this year, discovered him there’s a wealth of writing to uncover.

A poster for Buffalo Bill's Wild West, Congress of Rough Riders, 1899

Watch and listen to John Boyne talk at the Wimbledon Book Festival in 2013 where he is talking to mainly aspiring young novelists in the audience.

For all things John Boyne-ish check out his website.

You can buy the ebook of The Congress of Rough Riders here.

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan
British novelist, Ian McEwan

The first thing that strikes you is that McEwan is writing in the first person, as a woman. I used to have a prejudice against this: a writer writing as another gender, but I called myself out and tried it myself. Now, it doesn’t bother me; in fact, it’s one of the things I like about this book. Generally speaking, I believe that people are more alike than not. Gender, sexuality, and up-bringing affect us in profound ways, but also don’t affect us at all. We all experience and react to the range of human emotions and consequent actions: a young homosexual female bus-driver and an old straight rich male banker could react to jealousy, a home-invasion, or a heart attack in exactly the same way. I don’t need to research the work space and tasks of an astronaut when I’m writing about her marriage breakdown, just like I don’t need to study aerodynamics to jump a puddle.

Writing in the third person is the more common format. The third person allows the writer to create a narrator that is god-like, knowing everything about everyone, past present and future. Writing in the first person gives the writer access only to what the protagonist experiences; but this can be useful to the writer who may not want the protagonist to know everything. Hold that thought.

I’ve read almost all of McEwan – I say almost because as yet I haven’t been able to get past page 3 of On Chesil Beach (2007): I find the situation the young couple are in so embarrassing. I must get over it, I know; and I will, just not yet. It’s a tribute to McEwan’s craft that it effected me so strongly.

McEwan’s early work, up until the turn of this century, were generally dark tales with something black, dangerous, or hellish at the heart of each new novel. He became known as Ian MaCabre. However since the turn of the century his style has changed although he still likes to play with the narrative form; as he did with Atonement (2001) – one of his best – by creating a fake ending which allowed the title to be so appropriate.

But, back to Sweet Tooth (2012) set in 1972: Serena Frome (as in “plume”) is a young, pretty, blonde who isn’t very picky about her sexual partners. In fact, she admits her hunger for approval but not her hunger for affection. She is recruited into M15 by an older lover who then abandons her for reasons she, and the reader, only find out about much later. She is placed in a lowly paid clerical job in a lowly department; with a 3rd mathematics degree from Cambridge but an enthusiastic love and ever-growing interest in literature, especially fiction. That is why she is given the job of signing up a new, intelligent, and promising writer – will he win a prestigious prize? – named Tom Haley, for a pension, seemingly from a creative arts foundation, but really as a way for the government to have some control over the culture of the society it governs; not control really but making sure they foster the right creative minds. This interesting idea is at the core of the book. It also leads to some very informative and rewarding discussion of the relationship between writer and reader. She prepares for her undercover work by reading three of his short stories and these stories aren’t presented as complete works by Tom Haley, although I wonder if McEwan actually wrote them out in full; but Serena tells us about them, giving the reader insight into what they tell her about the man she will soon meet.

Serena’s dilemma is how much does she tell Tom. This becomes critical when she falls in love with him, and he with her. As the romance deepens so does her duplicity. The reader can feel the doom gathering as events conspire against her – and then the media get hold of it: headline “HALEY’S SEXY SPY”; and it’s possible that you will have a choice of what you may think will happen. She of course calls him, visits him, but he is gone; nowhere in sight. No matter what you may think will happen when she finds him, I can safely guarantee you will be wrong. Here is an ending like no other, although in retrospect, it’s very McEwan. Only when you read the last page, the last line, do you really understand what happened. Oh, please don’t be tempted to look.

There are no spoilers here; but I will say that the success of the plot lies in the fact that Serena, and you the reader are oblivious to a very important piece of information and it’s crucial that it not be revealed. It’s only when it is that you realise that McEwan really had no choice: it had to be written in the first person.

For lovers of McEwan, this is a gem. So much better than his latest Nutshell (2016); such a disappointment.

You can find the novel, in various formats, here.

The Paris Review’s interview with Ian McEwan – “The Art of Fiction No. 173” – from 2002 you can find here.

My Brother, My Love & Other Stories

This collection of stories is now globally available here

This book is available for download with iBooks on your Mac or iOS device, and with iTunes on your computer. Books can be read with iBooks on your Mac or iOS device. Cost $6.99

This has been made possible through the Melbourne based publishing platform Tablo

In the coming months I will move my other publications from the American platform I’ve been using (smashwords) to this convenient and very user-friendly Australian platform.

If you are interested in writing and hassle-free self-publishing…

Give Tablo a Go.


The Good Doctor by Damon Galgut

The South African writer, Damon Galgut
The South African writer, Damon Galgut

I found this book compelling. I altered my daily routine to make more reading time, to find out what would happen; and I appreciated the small editing trick that put the climactic event on the top of a new page: I turned the page and gasped. I knew something was coming, but not that!

I discovered the South African writer, Damon Galgut, via his latest novel, Arctic Summer, which was a fictional re-creation of the latter writing life of E. M. Forster in his attempt to come to terms with the writing of his most famous and last novel, A Passage to India, and his own sexuality (See my review posted on the 4th March 2015).

The Good Doctor won Best Book in the African section of the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize in 2003 and was shortlisted for the Man-Booker prize, as was his 2010 work, In a Strange Room, a copy of which I am searching for. There is now a space on my bookshelf for the works of Damon Galgut, when I find them.

The setting of The Good Doctor is post-apartheid South Africa, in a dusty, remote, native ‘homeland’ which was created, had money thrown at it, but then abandoned, and integrated back into South Africa itself; the ‘capital’ neglected, and the hospital seemingly forgotten by the authorities in Pretoria. It is to this underfunded, under-utilised, but over-staffed hospital that the good doctor, Laurence Waters, comes.

Interestingly the story is told in the first person by the implied, ‘bad’ doctor, Frank Eloff with whom the new arrival has to share a cramped room. Laurence is ambitious, eager, committed and full of big ideas; Frank is not, he is none of these things. He is a plodder; content to muddle through although over-reaches himself in his care of the few patients the hospital treats. It seems Laurence is focused on the process, the work, while Frank is focused on the outcome.

The tension is the product of these two diverse personalities forced to share a small bedroom within a just-functioning institution in a just-functioning society. A friendship develops despite Frank’s constant denial that one exists. Everywhere is the threat of violence. Soldiers appear apparently because the failed, and enigmatic previous military leader of the ‘homeland’ is still lurking out there in the bush somewhere. Off duty military men drinking in the only bar in town lean their rifles between their legs; road blocks, forced car-searches, and abrupt interrogations create a feeling of unease, and the threat of potential calamities. Also within the hospital all is on edge. Frank’s illicit affair with a local woman who doesn’t want conversation; the possibility of the surly male nurse, the only nurse, Tehogo and his ‘pretty’ friend, Raymond, being part of the ex-leader’s band; and his tense relationship with the only two females on the team, his boss Dr Ruth Ngema, and his ex-lover Catherine, a Cuban exile, who continually fights with her husband – their loud arguments in Spanish permeating the thin wall separating them from the two men trying to sleep in close narrow beds next door.

One day the thought of Laurence getting his own room creates an unwelcome and surprising feeling in Frank: he would prefer that not to happen. I kept trying to ignore the sexual tension here, passing it off as wishful thinking, but, no, it is there but I won’t spoil it for you by telling you what does or does not happen.

I’m a slow reader but I read this one in record time; I didn’t want it to end, but I couldn’t help turning the next page, and the next, and the next. Highly recommended.