Title: Suspending Reality
Author: Kelly Rimmer
Length: 62,000 words
Genres: Contemporary Women’s Fiction, Drama
Everyone has parts of their life they’d like to change – but if your whole life had become a disappointment, how far would you go to find happiness?
Esther feels stifled by her religious, judgmental family. Cheryl is unfulfilled by motherhood and trapped by her poverty. Carla is beautiful and successful, but haunted by the ghosts of her past.
For these women to find peace, someone might need to die.
Suspending Reality is a fast moving, intricate novel of character and suspense.
In some places, autumn is a month that is experienced with the fullness of the senses. The first of a year’s goose-bumps and shivers arrive with the dawn of cooler weather. The red and gold and yellow and brown of dying leaves blanket the earth. Dusty, smoky wood fires burn in fireplaces that have been unused for months, and the smell hangs heavy over towns and cities.
There are even sounds unique to the season — those first light coughs of children adjusting to cooler weather, and the brisk brushing of men sweeping clear their all-important driveways. The tastes are rich — pumpkin soup with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of paprika, or a creamy warm milk before bed.
Cheryl parked her car and slid out awkwardly. She looked up to another clouded sky that threatened rain that would never come, and sniffed the air. It smelt just like it always did — dusty. She thought about her childhood and how autumn had once descended upon life and left its mark, and was suddenly very homesick for the changing of seasons.
Parkes had no visible autumn. The eucalypts did not lose their leaves, so there was nothing but the usual dust to sweep from the driveway and where Cheryl lived, no one even did that. She did not know a single soul who made pumpkin soup or heated milk, unless of course there was a baby involved. It wasn’t yet cool enough for children to cough, or for anyone to light a fire unless they wanted to start a bushfire. Autumn in Parkes felt a whole lot like summer in Parkes if someone took the sting out of the sun.
Cheryl pushed the door to the health centre open with her shoulder and stepped inside. In one hand, she held a packet of Tim Tams, in the other, a half-eaten chocolate bar. The dusty overhead fan swirled musty air around the room. Cheryl threw the Tim Tams down onto the low coffee table and stuffed the rest of her chocolate bar into her mouth to free up her hands to work open the stiff windows.
Any minute now, three other Young Mothers would waddle into the room and they’d spend half an hour complaining about how bad their lives were. A well-dressed social worker would teach them about good parenting. The Tim Tams would be eaten — sooner, rather than later — and then they’d all go home.
Cheryl made herself a cup of no-name coffee at the lukewarm urn and lowered herself into a slouch in a wide vinyl chair. The government-issue furniture in the health centre, much like every other object she encountered on a day-to-day basis, was old and worn. The lino tiles on the floor were peeling and chipped, and the counter where the urn rested had been covered in grey contact which long-had since bubbled and cracked.
She settled back against the dull green vinyl and sipped her coffee, washing the last of the chocolate from her mouth. Cheryl was generally bored and depressed, but was especially unsettled today. The sheer shock of having tipped the scales that morning at almost one hundred and fifty kilograms had knocked her passive melancholy into an active slump. Somehow, she was getting fatter, and there didn’t seem to be a single thing she could do about it. Sadder still was the reality that her gargantuan size was almost the least of her problems.
I am completely, hopelessly trapped.
She was stuck in a life that was going nowhere. It was a life that she couldn’t remember deciding to live.
When the meeting finished and the time came to leave, Cheryl would struggle to get out of her chair because it was so low and she was so large. She dreaded that moment each week, it brutally reminded her that what she really needed was some way to pry herself out of the life into which she had slid. The problem was, the technique required was a complete mystery and she was beginning to suspect she’d die before she mastered it.
“Cheryl! You forgot your frozen stuff again. Lucky I saw the ice cream on the seat when I walked past. Sometimes I think you’d be lost without me.”
“I know I would. Thanks, Lisa,” Cheryl murmured. Lisa tossed Cheryl’s bag of perishables into the fridge and opened her can of Diet Coke, before turning back towards her friend and peering down at her pointedly.
“And what’s with the lemon face? Jessica giving you problems again?”
Cheryl shook her head and offered a smile.
“I just didn’t sleep well last night.”
Lisa sat opposite Cheryl and drank most of the can of Coke in one mouthful. She propped her feet up onto the table beside the biscuits and motioned towards Cheryl with the can.
“You need a man, Cheryl.”
Cheryl instantly reached for the Tim Tams. She opened the packet awkwardly with her thick fingers, then shook two out onto her palm and tossed the packet back onto the table.
“So you keep telling me, but you don’t seem so happy with Mick.”
Lisa was already rocking a little, which she often did after more than a few minutes without her Winfield Golds. She never, ever ate in public — and seemed to live off a diet of cigarettes and soft drink. Lisa was a proud size 6, and had slightly stiff but perfectly peroxided blonde hair. Excessive smoking and her atrocious diet had damaged her skin and Lisa looked much older than 35, but someone had forgotten to mention this to Lisa and she carried herself like a 19 year old supermodel.
Carla stuffed the plastic bag deep into a garbage bin and limped briskly across the plaza towards the hairdressing salon.
Polished white tiles gleamed on the floors and walls and sunken but glary lighting couldn’t have been kind to older patrons. The familiar bitterness of perming lotion and dye was in the air, mixed with the strange sweetness of strawberry potpourri.
Behind the stainless steel reception desk, a young blonde woman in a black miniskirt and tube-top was scribbling in a book with a bright pink pencil. At the sound of shoes on the tiles, she looked up, paused dramatically, and then cringed openly at the sight of Carla’s slightly patchy, orange and yellow hair.
“Oh, dear,” she said. She placed her open palms on the counter and leant forward with enthusiasm and concern. “Hello.”
“Hi,” Carla said wryly. “My niece has just started an apprenticeship and told me she’d learnt to colour and cut. She obviously lied. I need some repair work as soon as humanly possible.”
The receptionist grinned and glanced down at her desk. She twisted the pencil vaguely between her fingers as she flicked the pages of the book with the flair of a performer.
“We’re booked out, but you need an expert and we are the experts.” The receptionist giggled. “I’ll shift some people around, it’s obviously an emergency. Perhaps we can fit you in at eleven?”
Carla glanced at the watch on her wrist. That would give her two hours to kill, but she was dressed like a bag lady and needed to refresh her wardrobe anyway.
The plaza was in the very centre of the city of Melbourne. Piped music adorned the ambience and people in suits walked briskly and carried environmentally-friendly, designer shopping bags. Carla stopped at a chemist and purchased a hair-tie, several packets of bandages and some strong antiseptic cream, then located an underwear store. She took a selection of pink and tan bras from the racks and a fistful of matching lacy panties, before rounding off the visit with several revealing items of sleepwear. The shop assistant seemed surprised when Carla didn’t try a single thing on, but happily took the wad of cash anyway.
Next on the list was a shoe-store. The fitter approached her a little nervously as she stepped inside and Carla smiled confidently. She may have been wearing a tracksuit and hiding beneath caravan-park hair, but she was the sort of woman who was accustomed to spending money and receiving commanding service.
“I’m a size seven,” she announced. “And I’ll take a pair of each of these.”
The shoe-store had to arrange a luggage trolley for her to take all ten boxes of shoes and her large bag of underwear on to the next shop. After her visit to the casual wear store, the plaza provided her with a porter to push the trolley and carry her bags. He waited patiently while she visited a makeup counter in a department store to buy the cosmetics items she would require for her time in Melbourne. The ever-growing pile upon the luggage trolley was completed with several suits and some handbags, before Carla and her porter made a quick stop for accessories at a jewellery store.
“Right,” Carla announced, surveying the packed trolley. “Could you lead me to a bathroom? I’d like to change out of these rags before I go to my hairdressing appointment.”
“Certainly, Miss,” the porter said, with a level of enthusiasm that was clearly conditional. He’d obviously been watching her tip the shop assistants. Inwardly, Carla sighed. Good help was so hard to find these days, and to her constant frustration, people truly seemed to prefer money to the joy of effective service.
When she returned to the hairdresser five minutes before her appointment, the receptionist surveyed her designer jeans and leather shoes, scanned her slinky black singlet and the heavy silver jewellery she wore, and smiled.
“I see you’ve been shopping.”
Carla smiled back.
“My luggage was lost when I flew in,” she lied easily. “I’ve had to replace everything, I simply don’t have time to wait for that damn airline to find it. Is the stylist ready?”
“Certainly,” the receptionist said. “Can I get you a coffee or tea? Perhaps a mocha?”
* * * *
There was so much to do, but Carla was riding on the shockwave of motivation that arriving in Melbourne had created. The hotel room was everything she needed it to be, and once she’d unpacked her new clothes, it felt like home. She sat on the expensive camel bedspread with a newspaper and red pen and circled six potential jobs, then made six phone calls, did some very smooth talking, and managed to arrange four interviews the next morning.
Carla’s skills and work history were strong, and she knew she’d have her pick of the jobs she’d phoned about. She would demand a high salary, but couldn’t imagine that being a problem. Her references were gushing with enthusiasm and she could talk her way into anything. Not for a single second did it occur to her that she might not get exactly what she wanted from the Melbourne job market. She was Carla Davies, a beautiful, successful woman who knew how to navigate life with ease.
After a trip to the hotel gym and a light salad for dinner, Carla crawled between the Egyptian cotton sheets on the bed and shut her eyes. The trip to Melbourne had been long and the shopping expedition had been tiring.
As she drifted off to sleep, Carla reflected on how at-peace with the world she felt. It was a nice concept, and a lovely thought to close the day with.
At three am, she woke suddenly to find her heart racing and her sheets drenched with sweat. Her thigh ached and her face was covered with hot tears. She sat up and reached for the bedside lamp. When light flooded the room, she carefully surveyed her surroundings, and then sank weakly against the pillows. When Carla was finally calm enough to sleep again, she left the light on.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kelly Rimmer is an Australian author based in Orange, New South Wales. Her debut novel, Suspending Reality, was published in March 2012. In writing Suspending Reality, Kelly says she wanted to capture a moment most women experience at some point in their lives, wondering what it would be like to just get in a car and drive away to become someone else. How exactly would someone go about that, and what would the consequences be?
Kelly fits her passion for writing around her other full time jobs, which include raising two adorable children and trying to keep the impossible polished tiles in her living areas reasonably clean. Her next novel, Me and My Barefoot Lover, will be released in June 2012.
Visit Kelly at http://www.facebook.com/Kellymrimmer