No.16 TRAM

By Sophie Capern


She knew if you hyperventilated enough your body sends you unconscious and breathes for you because it doesn’t want you to die.

She could smell lavender sprigs and trams didn’t normally smell like lavender. She knew this because they normally smelt like piss. Or vomit, depending on the day in question. She was surprised, he didn’t seem the lavender kind. Maybe the Joop or Lynx Gravity kind instead. The kind you smell and you’re back at a sweaty bus stop coated in body odour and acute anxiety, your stocking crotch never sitting in the right place.

 Image: Tyler Arnold

Image: Tyler Arnold

The woman sitting to her left was reading a book, the words ‘Bridget Jones’ spread across the front in black. Once she watched the film at a sleepover with girls who spelt ‘fat’ on their calculators, she remembered not being able to sleep and tugging at herself. She had cane burnt on her scalp from sitting on the oval for too long and her calves were sticky from the glue used to hold up her socks. She wanted to pull at their hair.

First, have some more wine, and then tell me the story about practicing French kissing with the art girls at school, because it's a very good story.
It wasn't French kissing.
Don't care, make it up. That's an order, Jones.

That’s an order, Jones.

He would grab her waist hard, now, she thought. He was. He would, maybe. The lines on his palm were deep. He was too long and flushed, like a $7.98 rose from Woolworths bought by a cheat. His calluses were like braille - rough fingertips on keyboards and phones instead of on knuckles or knees. Places requiring less of the honest kind of work. The kind of work that matters on a tombstone. His children would ponder; what to write what to write, of a red man. They would settle for ‘much loved’. They would settle and mourn a smooth idea. A cold one.

Another unzipped his trousers, fumbling. Clumsy, she noted, his trotters struggling with a button. She regretted her underwear choice.

She knew if you hyperventilated enough your body sends you unconscious and breathes for you because it doesn’t want you to die. She could see the elephant at the zoo, fifteen kilometres away, she could see it. But once, she saw an episode of House where someone got so scared they died from a panic attack and she couldn’t sleep for a week. Once, her granddad told her about the time a chicken bone got stuck in his throat and she didn’t eat chicken for 3 months and 2 days. Once, she passed out in a shopping centre because a Panadol went down the wrong way and her grandmother’s bag was pink. Once-

Another would sit watching, the man three rows down, she thought, cloppity clop. His trouser-ends were covered in filth. He was a cow. Wait, maybe a cow that gets mistaken sometimes for a not-cow. Maybe a rat in a cow suit with an abundance of styrofoam pebbles for padding. Yes, he was styrofoam. Squeaking like a chalkboard nail, descending. She remembered a christmas, the one where her dad jumped in the pool with his Wild Turkey and her mum’s teeth started to brown. She remembered the styrofoam in her brother’s plastic box and the dog almost suffocating on chocolates.

It has been proven that panic attacks can last no longer than a maximum of twenty minutes. After twenty minutes your body will calm itself, unable to produce enough adrenaline to maintain the attack. You cannot die from a panic attack. Your body will make itself breathe. Your body doesn't want you to die.

She would bend over, now. Her lacy underwear would peel off her thighs only to be tossed under their muddy souls. She breathed in the purple, the lavender sprigs, mentally tracing the fingerprint of their boots, where they would be. I really must get that email sent, she thought. She’d spent the whole day Friday with a spot of vegemite on her top lip and everyone on her level had seen. Even Stewart had seen. ‘Guilty until proven innocent’ he’d said, in jest. Guilty.

Mr. Styrofoam lent in close, whispering, now approaching. What? She muttered, her bra an awkward, phantom necklace. ‘Now approaching Flinders Street Station’ he squeaked. He was balding too, like the back of her mum’s head. Mum? Why think of mum now? She shook her own head furiously, attempting to etch-o- sketch her thought patterns into blank. Her stomach turned; she was going to vomit up her breakfast. She could feel the Uncle Toby’s swelling in her throat. Breathe.

Name five things you can touch, five things you can see, five things you can smell, five things you can taste, five things you can hear. Practice mindfulness of space and place and your mind will calm itself. Mindfulness is the opposite of anxiety, the answer is now.

Seat, seat, leg, window, seat, bar.
Men, trees, window, men, men.
Cigarettes, coffee, body odour, mint, Lynx. toothpaste, coffee, spit, toothpaste, banana.
Men, men, a baby, tram screeching, screeching men.

‘If you tell yourself you can’t think of an elephant all you can think of is elephants, you know,’ a diamond- encrusted woman told her for two hundred an hour. Her hair was grey now, she imagined her lighting candles and praying at bed time. Not to god, though. To many. To herself. Or maybe she just lived in a one bedroom apartment and ate Mi Goring noodles in front of Masterchef. Maybe the woman didn’t pray, maybe she gave head to men who didn’t deserve it.

She peered over her seat, she could see its grey flesh. Third row from the front, right. She’d always wanted to pat elephants until she actually saw one. She’d always wanted to kiss their trunks or have them toss water on her like the pictures of her friends posted on Facebook when they went to India. She’d never been to India, she didn't like planes, being trapped so far removed from anything but trap. She had been in the same room as an un-founded cheat though. Of a sick person. Of a bad joke.

The elephant was now sleeping at the end of her bed: a displaced relative. Like the downstairs carpet the real estate agent refused to replace, the cellulite on her left calf. You can’t jog off a calf, it’s not like a stomach. It’s genetic, mum. No, it’s not flattering, mum. Mum. Breathe, mum.

Your body doesn't want you to die.

Those who suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder tend to ‘lock on’ to taboo subjects, believing themselves to be bad people of whom something is inherently wrong. Sick. They will catch a usual thought and twist it beyond recognition until they feel perverted. They torture themselves with these thoughts, using them as further evidence of how sick they are. Breathe.

It has been proven that panic attacks can last no longer than a maximum of twenty minutes.

Her gills were not equipped for this water. She was deep, now, without the mandatory neck slits under her lobes. Jumping into creeks too low, she swam up trying to break the water before her chest burst. A small child nearby wailed and shook her back into her tram seat momentarily. She wanted to punch it. She wanted to punch herself for wanting to punch it. It wouldn't stop yelling. She imagined its limbs breaking, how easy they would snap under a shoe. No. The streets were full outside. People morphed into guppies, swimming upstream. The fluorescent lights were their open-mouthed river. She was drowning, wading with shoes too heavy. She was drowning a small child, holding it. It was crying but she wouldn’t let it go. She could see a glowing, yellow ‘Mc D’ in the distance, Swanston St, the mouth, but the small body was there in her chest.

You cannot die from a panic attack, you're body will Breathe.

How do you plead, on all counts of manslaughter? How do you plead?
Guilty.

That’s an order, Jones.

She was going to piss herself on her way to the barred room where they would keep her. She was going to piss herself, now.

Her septum ring was between her thumb and forefinger. A nervous twitch she’d adopted since the needle hit her cartilage. A welcome change from pulling her scalp. ‘Hi, I see you got a ring that’s funny remember in high school we used to say people with those looked like bulls, do you remember that?’ Do you remember. She touched her metal nose and every time she did she fantasised about being on all fours in muddy fields while she waited in coffee lines. The man’s thigh beside her screamed ‘all fours’. Not him four; you or me. His legs were so far apart they seemed disjointed, his dick swinging between the seats, she was an accordion between glass and his leg. She could see his trotter beneath the seams. She knew he was still watching. Laughing at her vegemite lip. Cloppity Clop.

Urinating or defecating yourself in public is actually one of the most common phobias shared by those who suffer from panic disorder. It is commonly linked with fear of humiliation. Those with this phobia tend to fear public places, transport, or any physical locations far from lavatories. They tend to require seats near exits and if this phobia goes untreated they may develop agoraphobia, resulting in them struggling to leave their homes.

Actually.
That’s an order, proven, breathe. Jones.

Her necklace would chafe her collarbones, now, she would try to re-clip herself. He would grunt. No. No re- clipping. He wasn't flushed, this one that was watching. This one wouldn’t buy anyone flowers, discount, cheating, or otherwise. He would, grunt. Guilty.

It has been proven that panic attacks can last no longer than a maximum of twenty minutes.

The sun shone through the window. She could see bike pedals and brown through. She was trying to breathe. The elephant’s eyes were large, she could see them glistening from the front seat again. She wondered if elephants paid for tram tickets. If they got fined by officers, if they breathed through their trunks, or their

mouths. She rose, her legs felt weak and shaky but it would feel good to move from a stone. She would leave her bag behind, its loop sagging into the walkway. She would leave it there knowing, the pigs the hoofs and rats would glare at its buckles.

She would walk up, now. She would walk to the grey wrinkles, she would say say: ‘excuse me, sir, but do you breathe through your trunk or your mouth? Do you get fined, did you remember topay for a ticket, sir?’

Sir.
And he would turn slowly and say, through an undetectable orifice,
‘If you tell yourself you can’t think of an elephant all you can think of is elephants, you know,’ and breathe.