My friend, Viola, is getting married.
I met her for dinner one evening in Chinatown for dumplings. A diamond ring on her finger shone dully like a blunt piece of glass beneath the red muted light of the paper lanterns. Viola was excited. Happy. The steam from the fresh dumplings rose up in front of her face as she asked me to be her Maid of Honour.
The question sprung upon me with a great deal of flattery, I chose instead to place a hot white pork dumpling in my mouth where it sat squat and heavy over any words or response that might have tumbled off my tongue. Viola, radiant with love and the commitment of an impending marriage, beamed at me and stirred slightly in the booth, writhing with the joy that raced up and down her bones. I sat stiff and leaden on the sticky vinyl seat.
There was a couple sitting to the right of us in the booth adjacent. Two women; mother and adult daughter. The mother was simply a woman, unremarkable, with steely hair groomed close to her scalp, yet the daughter captivated me. Viola’s discourse about gowns and floral arrangements washed over me, just a white wall of sound, and instead I watched the daughter place two chopsticks between her fingers. A plate piled with green steamed broccoli with thin slices of fried garlic was in the middle of the table, between the daughter and the mother.
“I just don’t think we’re going to have any children Mother,” the daughter said as she looked down at steaming greens, chopsticks picking through the dark stems and steaming garlic. The daughter said this, said no to children, with a weariness born of repetition and unheard words. She picked at the pile of greens and selected a single stem, held it tight between the chopsticks and tore it from the pile. A wedding band of simple gold wrapped itself around her finger. Her hand delicately dropped the broccoli inside her open mouth.
“Why not? Why don’t you want to give me grandchildren?” the mother said wearily. Her boney hands were knitted together and her chin rested on her knuckles, where her own wedding ring sat. The ring was old, unclean, not polished and scuffed in places. It let off a muted yellow glow. There was so much marital jewellery surrounding me I was dazzled by the frequent metallic flashed that pierced my vision as I scanned the room, hands moving and fluttered around plates of food, catching the fluorescent light and throwing flashes of silver and gold into my eyes. I did not notice the waiter hovering by my elbow, attempting to wrench my now empty plate away from me. I folded my napkin and strained over the sounds of the steam spitting and hissing in the kitchen, to hear the daughter’s repost.
She chewed slowly, delicately, under the gaze of her mothers eyes, burning inside her skull like two pieces of coal in the fire. “Why should I have children?” said the daughter. She really felt like saying “Why should I? I already regret being alive.” But she remained silent. She really felt like saying “Why should I? I already regret being alive.” But she remained silent. She heard the porcelain clinking against the silver cutlery and the ivory coloured plastic chopsticks reverberating a shorter, deeper note as the mother and the daughter plunged their utensils into steaming bowls of rice.
It was true; the daughter often pondered upon the infinity of the darkness that she was certain would unfurl behind her dead eyelids as they fell upon her cheeks for the last time. She didn’t want her mother to misunderstand her. She relished being alive. To breath and to feel and to live and to love was wonderful, this miracle of humanity that she felt each day pulsating through her veins. There were summer days with brown skin hot, plunging into an aquamarine pool of water. There were evening drinks of wine and mulled conversation under a merlot coloured sky with her husband, and there were the holidays spent camping during the winter time by the sea. The daughter enjoyed her life. It was a good life. It was that sometimes she felt that she had achieved all that there was to achieve in this life. That she had reached the milestones set in place in order to be deemed a competent adult human. She had bought a house. Had a lavish wedding. She sat each night with her husband eating dinner and holding hands in the nice house that they had bought together, with lovely artwork hung up on the white walls. She did not smoke. She walked every morning before work. She was a success, just like all the other couples in all the other houses on the street where she lived. Another minute part of the seamless functional machine of life.
Yet she felt she had failed. The daughter suffered from the curious sensation that the world was hurtling through time and space faster than she could ever fathom, and that it would continue to do so whether she were rich or poor, working or unemployed, intelligent or a fool. The sun rises each day and races across the sky, the moon waxing and waning with a gentle hush, and the daughter’s death, her mothers, or Viola’s, will not halt that in any way. She did not know if there was an afterlife. She did not know what her purpose was on this planet. And she was not sure if she would be able to make her mortgage repayment next week. She felt she was trapped, ensnared by her muted unhappiness and her hollow, materialistic victories. The only time she felt that she truly, purely enjoyed life was when she have been unaware of it, ignorant to it like a child in the summer time, unaware of days passing, of the encroaching night or the school holiday that must inevitably come to an end. And these moments did not come often enough to calm her. Each day she struggled to life her head high and propel herself forward into a day that she felt was trivial, a day that was the same as the one that came before and ultimately the same as the ones that would follow it. Why should she have a child? To just add another cog to this great machine, just another turning wheel in the ever expanding machine of the world, which is rapidly running out of fuel each day that passes. Why should she purposefully give birth to an innocent sprit only to fling it into the belly of the machine? To add another cog to the ever turning wheel, taking it from eternity and darkness and out into the light crying and wailing? The only way out is death, so perhaps to never exist in the first place is not as terrible an idea as it sounds. Never to become a part of the machine, or to remove ones self completely, to sheer the bolts and to detach must be a beautifully painful joy, she thought. It must be better than revolving each day, clicking silently like the wheels of a train over the cold, steel rails, shuttling forward, the other cogs of the machine catching rays of light and flashing metallically.
The daughter did not say this to her mother, though. She simply placed another steamed green piece of vegetable in her mouth, and a small speck of soy sauce flecked her chin. She wiped it away with the back of her hand, and said thickly through the mouthful of food, “we are trying Mum. Just give us time.” It was easier to lie than to unpack the truth.
I looked at her mother, who sipped at the green tea in her blue and white china cup, and then looked over at the daughter, who’s eyes were heavy with the truth that she could not blink away. At the same moment the daughter snatched up the last remaining piece of broccoli, a plate of fried pork dumplings, spitting and hissing from the fry pan, was delivered to our table, and Viola clapped her hands together with a childish delight and her engagement ring flashed at me, shining like the metal of the machine which she was now a part of.