Elizabeth Tan reads from Smart Ovens for Lonely People
A Girl Is Sitting On A Unicorn In The Middle Of A Shopping Centre
It’s Monday and Myer is having the greatest stocktake sale of all time, and there’s a giant backlit poster of Miranda Kerr smiling indulgently with a wrist of pearls, and the shopping centre is flooded with daylight and hope. There is a girl sitting on a unicorn in the middle of the shopping centre and the artificial trees are green and shimmering and the lady at the make-up counter waits with an armful of flyers and a cherry-flavoured smile. It’s Monday and children tug their parents’ sleeves and ask if they can ride the pony or the zebra or the tiger; they clamber into miniature saddles and pedal the giant animals across the chequered tiles. There is a girl sitting on a unicorn in the middle of the shopping centre, framed in the square of a skylight, wearing jelly sandals and pink tights and a tutu skirt and a T-shirt which says ‘Elsa & Anna’.
It’s Monday and today there are specials like no other and there are pert macarons at the patisserie counter that are all the colours of a chalky rainbow. There are vast pyramids of cruelty-free bath bombs that smell like avocado or honey or fizzy sherbet. Miranda Kerr is smiling and her teeth are brighter than a cache of luxury steak knives and her eyes are huge caverns of feeling. She believes in her pearl bracelet and she wants you to believe that she believes in her pearl bracelet and together you have a special understanding, just you and Miranda Kerr and nobody else.
It’s Monday and there are unbelievable markdowns and shoppers mill around with their arms crossed waiting for their Boost Juice. There is a girl sitting on a unicorn in the middle of the shopping centre, concentrating fiercely; one hand grips the decorative reins and the other hand is buried in the knotted purple fibres of the unicorn’s mane. This unicorn has been the chosen mount of forty-three children before this girl. This girl is the last hope.
If you go into Woolworths there is a man in a novelty chef’s hat and butcher’s apron handing out little medicine cups of toothpick-pierced grilled chicken in a spiced, creamy sauce. A shopper tries to request Cash Out from a self-serve checkout machine that does not offer Cash Out, and there are no more cone-shaped bags at the buckets of flowers, so anybody who takes a bunch of flowers gets a little bit wet. At the deli counter, carved slices of ham are precisely layered on a slight incline, and each pink face is a round gleaming universe.
There is a girl sitting on a unicorn in a square of light. She is listening to the unicorn intently. She has unthreaded her feet from the pedal-stirrups and she is listening most, most carefully. She is a good listener. Oftentimes, instead of telling the girl to be quiet, the girl’s mother will give the tips of her ears a very gentle push forward and say, ‘Use your listening ears for now, please.’ Her mother, Elsa, and Anna are the girl’s most favourite people in the world.
It’s Monday and the shopping centre is filled with children’s laughter and avian and rainforest sounds courtesy of the Australian Geographic store, and the girl leans close to the unicorn and shuts her eyes and nuzzles its furry head. She is using her listening ears. The unicorn says that it doesn’t know how it can go on. The unicorn says that it wants to die.
Miranda Kerr smiles and her cheeks are round pink gleaming universes, especially her left one, and the more you stare at her the more you understand the truth of reality. A spotless shopfront window displays a grid of sneakers separated from their right halves. All the sneakers are facing in the same direction, showing off their optimal side, just like Miranda. The pearl bracelet and Miranda Kerr have mutually enhancing special powers and Miranda Kerr’s hair is imbued with several compelling subliminal messages like a rich aromatic blend and melted to the finest consistency and a soft comfortable lining with the firmest support suitable for everyday wear.
The girl strokes the unicorn’s hair and the unicorn corrects itself and says that it doesn’t want to die exactly but that it just wants to stop, like this: ‘One day, the unicorn stopped.’ And all the beautiful things of the world would still be there and all the sad things of the world would still be there and the unicorn can just be quiet and disconnected and not even be an ‘it’ anymore. I cannot turn off the voice inside my head that is telling me it wants to stop, the unicorn says.
The girl can feel her breakfast inside her stomach, warm and milky, and she doesn’t need to pee just yet, and she doesn’t know it, and will never know it, but she is a miracle. She wears her tutu skirt and jelly sandals and she thinks she would like to pierce her ears one day and she loves her mum and Elsa and Anna and she will never be ashamed of any of this. It pleases her to be a girl and to be like other girls because the best people in her life are all girls, so why wouldn’t she want to be like other girls?
Everything in the girl’s life is small and satisfying but she listens to the unicorn and hugs its neck and says that it’s okay to be sad and it’s okay to feel like you would like to stop. And she rubs her nose in the unicorn’s mane and smells the dyed fibres and the noses of the forty-three children who have ridden this unicorn before her. She is sad that the unicorn is sad and together they sit in the square of light and give each other the best of their attention.
At PappaRich a waiter carries a stack of clean white dishes which is so high it reaches his chin. There are squat amber bottles filled with tap water lined up on a counter and throughout the restaurant bells are always chiming. The faceless mannequins in the Portmans window are all naked except for giant red price tags hanging around each of their necks, which say SALE. A boy guides a zebra back to the smiling vendor. A shop assistant slides a dress into a crisp new bag.
It’s Monday and you do not want to miss out on these never-before-seen limited-time offers. There is a girl sitting on a unicorn in the middle of the shopping centre. Miranda Kerr is listening to every word you are saying and she can even see your thoughts. The shopping centre smells aggressively of salted caramel courtesy of Peter Alexander, but if you use your smelling nose you might also catch the scent of clothing tags and unworn leather and slightly burned coffee and steamed kaya buns and boneless easy-carve pork roasts and artisan baguettes and perfume samples and moisturising self-foaming hand wash and orange rinds.
The unicorn and the girl sit in the square of light and together they build a special understanding that will last until the end of time. One day the girl will stop and the unicorn will stop and Miranda Kerr will stop and the shopping centre will stop and the light will stop and the pyramids of cruelty-free bath bombs will crumble into nothing. One day there will be a sale to end all sales, a final markdown like a lightning strike that tears the sky in half. And all the beautiful things of the world will still be there and all the sad things of the world will still be there. And all the glass and skylights will melt down into a universe of the finest consistency—round, pink, gleaming. A place so quiet and small and satisfying. It’s Monday, and all the bells are chiming.
– Elizabeth Tan, Smart Ovens for Lonely People (Brio)