Story for performance #887
webcast from Sydney at 07:44PM, 24 Nov 07

traced onto the paper
Source: Deborah Cameron, ‘Home from home’, Sydney Morning Herald online, 24/11/07.
Writer/s: Vlatka Horvat

Geri is sitting in a room, in one of the chairs lined up against the wall. The room is inside a building where hallways are labelled with instructions and pictograms and directions, and where they take your phone off you when you are first entering. The walls in the hallways are painted a particular shade of greenish blue—an unusual choice for this type of place—so Geri makes a mental mark in his head to include this information in the story version of the day’s events which he’ll narrate to his girlfriend when he gets home. Girls notice those kinds of things, colours and stuff, he thinks as he follows the arrows down the hallway.

There are other people in the room besides Geri, but he is not looking around to see if he recognizes any faces. He is preoccupied with the mechanical pen in his hand which he can’t seem to get to work the way he needs it to work. It seems as though the spiral part inside is missing—he pushes the bit that writes out of the plastic casing, but when he releases the mechanism, it doesn’t catch.

The pen is making Geri very unhappy—waiting will take so much longer if he doesn’t have anything to write with. Geri only slept one hour last night. Which is hardly enough to function properly here. And now the pen.

Since his life has turned to shit, Geri does not sleep much as a rule. Two or three hours per night tops. He drinks a lot of coffee all day long, which he discovered recently helps him stay awake. He’s proud of his scant sleeping ration. Though he wouldn’t say as much out loud, he considers it a proof of his tough constitution. Whenever asked why he doesn’t try harder to get more sleep, he shakes his head, holds it between his hands as though intent to stop it from moving, and still shaking, makes his face into an exaggerated expression of something doubling as pain and impatience. Oh you know. Think. Think. Think.

Sitting there waiting, Geri is trying to focus on the random bits of audio from the TV. He doesn’t know if the visuals are even on, as the TV hangs suspended from a wall brace directly above his chair, the same way they had it installed in the hospital. Geri’s neck doesn’t work the same way it used to, and doesn’t turn in all the same directions it used to. Geri doesn’t like looking at screens in any case—they do things to his eyes he doesn’t like and make him think of things he doesn’t always like. He prefers his TV to be more like a radio.

A voice comes on over the loud speaker announcing what sounds like a variation of his name. After waiting a few moments to make sure no one else is getting up, Geri stands up and goes into the adjacent room.

The man behind the desk inside speaks in a way that makes everything seem like a question. He reads things off the papers in front of him, inflecting up at the end of each sentence, as though in disbelief or needing an additional confirmation of everything in his file.

It’s a long day in the man’s office. Geri knows exactly what he wants to say to the man, but sometimes hears the words come out differently from in his head. The man wants a lot of information—he writes down names, shows Geri maps and pictures of faces, some of whom the man says may already be dead, asks Geri to fill out some charts and identify abstract shapes. Then the list of symbols, more words to match to pictures, more shapes, then some numbers and more questions. How many people were involved, who was in charge, what does he remember, what is he hiding, what does he believe in, does he believe in God, or in justice, or in the law. Then some moral dilemmas—what would he do in hypothetical situations or if he were different people, and finally a lot of impossible physical tasks. The man then asks Geri for a handwriting sample and insists on having the outline of Geri’s foot traced onto the paper. Some of the procedures seem puzzling, but Geri goes along, understanding that he is not really in a position to do otherwise.

The whole situation reminds him of scenes his girlfriend is always describing to him from books she has read—stories involving institutional rooms and two men at opposite sides of the table, one asking questions, the other one being asked, or frightened. It makes Geri feel the same way he imagined from her stories those men might have felt, only here it is more for real and not imagined or written in a book.

On his way out, he notes how much time has passed by the way the colour of the sky has changed outside the window. Walking down the green-blue hallway, he is wondering if he said the right things and if the information he provided was useful, or convincing.

At home, his girlfriend kisses his mouth, then his scars.

One day he overhears her saying to someone that ‘what was, is okay now’ and another time that ‘what was, is better now.’ Geri is aware of the way she says ‘what was’, rather than ‘what happened’. He isn’t sure this is a particularly meaningful distinction, but it catches his attention and he logs it in his brain. He is also aware how she describes this thing that was, as ‘Okay’ in one instance and ‘better’ in another, and he cannot decide whether the situation, as narrated by his girlfriend, has improved or declined, as he isn’t sure whether ‘better’ is better than ‘Okay’, or the other way around. In the end he decides that both words are good words, and this he finds comforting.

Adapted for performance by Barbara Campbell from a story by Vlatka Horvat.