Frankie Barnet is the author of An Indoor Kind of Girl (Metatron Press). Her work has appeared in publications such as Joyland, Lemonhound and Papirmasse. She is a graduate of the Creative Writing program at Concordia University, and as of Fall 2016, will pursue her MFA at Syracuse University.
1 story by Frankie Barnet
A Plot of Ocean
Hillary and Angela were in the corner, folding napkins into shapes that looked like vaginas.
“So how long have you been in Australia?” asked Hillary. Hillary was broad, taller than Angela, with her hair pulled back into a low pony tail.
“About two months. You?” Angela was slim and petite. She had a round face with large, wide-set eyes. They looked nothing alike, although probably to a lot of the other caterers from Pinnacle they could have been twins. They had exactly the same complexion. Both of their faces had gone red carrying the ice buckets.
“I just got here,” said Hillary, “a week ago. I’m going to save up money for a van and drive to Byron Bay. You should come.”
“Cool,” said Angela.
They were both in uniform: starched white shirts, striped ties and black trousers. It was their second shift working a banquet together. Every week the caterers, mostly backpackers, called Pinnacle Headquarters on Flinders Street and the agents gave them shifts. Angela had been working all week and she had another shift the next morning, even though the dinner service wouldn’t end until after one.
Yuko called them for the main. Each caterer retrieved plates, either meat or vegetarian, from the festering chefs and followed Yuko out into the massive banquet hall, past the stage and among the wealthy guests, dressed in their finest.
The plates were heavy, especially when you carried three at a time. They had to be balanced or else the sauce would spill everywhere and the integrity of dish’s presentation would be ruined. Once Angela had spilt sauce onto her wrist, staining her white shirt. Yuko had seen and screamed at her.
Angela marched with the rest of the caterers, mostly Italian, German, and Korean. When she was about halfway to Yuko the sight caught her, out of the corner of her eye. It looked just like... but it couldn't be. She thought she had seen her baby, but that was impossible. That’s not my baby, she thought, it can’t be. Her baby had come at the wrong time in her life and had to be gotten rid of. There was no way it could be here now, eating dinner in Melbourne.
She dropped off her plates at sixty, then marched back to the kitchen to pick up another round.
“Hurry, hurry, faster, faster!” The chefs were throwing garnishes onto the plates and dripping sweat into the sauce. “Hurry the fuck up!” They were so angry.
“Come on sweetheart,” one of the chefs said bitterly to Angela.
“You ok?” Hillary, who was carrying the vegetarian option, asked her.
There it was again. It was definitely the baby, even from far away that was something Angela knew in her gut and the hairs on the back of her neck agreed. What was it doing here, now? Angela was trying to work.
Now the baby was talking to someone else at another table. What was it saying? Was it talking about her? Well, what else did the baby know about? It had been inside of her for a few months and that was it. It was probably telling the other guests about how Angela had dreamt of becoming a set designer, but that the only set she’d ever designed had been for a play that tanked. And she didn’t even get accepted into the set design program at the university. After that, she got so lost about her life that she flew across the world, pretty much on a whim. The baby and the guests were laughing at her. Jesus Christ. It was sitting right where Yuko was directing Angela to serve her plates.
“Fifty two, fifty two,” Yuko was yelling at the caterers. She could scream at the top of her lungs and none of the guests would notice, the sounds of their chatter were that engaging. Later there would be a band and speeches. Fifty-three was where the baby sat.
If Angela had to serve her own baby, she would die. It would be so awkward she’d pass out and the plates would fall, breaking on the ground. The food would fall all over her and she’d pee her pants. Everyone would see. She’d wake up and everyone would be staring at her with Yuko yelling table numbers, “fifty-six, forty-two, eleven, three!”
But when she got to the table, the baby was gone. It must have slipped away.
After the service was over, Hillary asked Angela if she wanted to grab a beer. They walked in their undershirts through the dark streets. “I think there’s a bar over here,” one of them would say, but the bars were always full. No one is going to want us with our backpacks anyways, Angela thought, though her sleek, leather backpack was much nicer than Hillary’s bulky MEC.
Finally they found a bar through an alley. Angela had been there before on a date, with someone from Ontario who she had me through Pinnacle, but all he wanted to talk about was Canada. “Did you hear about the new cabinet minister?” “Did you read about the woman murdered in Lacombe?”
The bar was nearly empty. A few men nursed beers by the counter and a couple sat in the back, kissing.
Hillary asked Angela if she had ever been to the Dominican Republic. Angela had not.
“I love the DR,” she said, “my ex was from there. He was so hot. the first time we had sex it was bad, because his dick was too big.”
“Crazy,” said Angela, “awesome.”
A man walked over to them and introduced himself as Carl. He was older than them, but probably only by a few years. He had curly hair.
The girls explained how they were from Canada and had spent the evening serving dinner at the convention centre.
“Wow,” he said, “Canada.”
“They have the worst cover bands,” Angela began, describing their shifts. “They play Black Eyed Peas, that song from The Muppets.”
“That ‘We Are A Family’ song,” said Hillary.
He was staring at Angela. “Do you like catering?”
“No,” she burst out laughing.
“Would you like another drink?”
He knew of a bar, which had more going on that this one did.
“All of the bars are full,” said Hillary, though it was beginning to have nothing to do with her.
“I know someone,” said Carl, absent-mindedly playing with their shot glasses.
As they walked out and into the alley Hillary whispered to Angela, “I’d be careful. This guy creeps me out.”
“I know,” said Angela, “but I don't want to go home yet.”
Carl paid for the three of them to get into the next bar without waiting in line. It was loud and crowded. From the corner of her eye, Angela thought she saw the baby again, though when she turned to look, it was only a woman’s thigh, fleshy and wide as she danced against a pool table.
Very quickly Hillary got caught in a booth, talking to a boy. “Do you like him?” Angela asked when she got back from the bar with Carl and a drink.
“Oh, she likes him," said Carl, “I can tell.”
“He’s a boy,” Hillary said. “And I’m only into men.”
Carl wanted to have a cigarette, so the three of them walked out to the patio, which was just as crowded, but cooler. Some people were backpackers, pointing up at what might have been the Southern Cross in the sky. Really you had to go out of the city to see the real sky, many people had told Angela, but she had not yet had the chance.
“What is this effect you have on men?” Carl asked her. “You’re so beautiful.”
“Are you drunk?” Hillary asked from the other side of her.
“No,” said Angela, though it was becoming difficult to finish her drink. The beer was becoming heavy, like a sludge. “I’m fine.” She started to laugh, “are you drunk?”
“It takes a lot to get me drunk,” Hillary said.
“I mean it,” Carl continued. “I knew it, the bartender at the last bar knew it. I said to him, ‘Are there any girls I should talk to?’ He said, ‘over there, the brunette with her back to you’.”
“I don't know,” said Angela, laughing. She could not quite wrap her head around this baby business. Why was it here and what did it want from her? It had been almost a year since she’d thought about it in any significant way. Several months, at least. Her life had moved on.
After a little while, Hillary said that she was going home and asked Angela if she wanted to come with her. Angela said no, she didn’t want to go home yet.
“Are you going to be ok?”
“How are you getting home?”
“I’ll cab,” said Angela.
“Do you have money?”
“Yeah,” she said, although she didn’t. Cabs were expensive, she never would, she couldn’t.
“Here,” Hillary pulled out a bright bill.
“No really, I’m fine.”
"Have a good time.”
“I’ll see you around Pinnacle,” Angela said, hiccupping.
They had one more drink and then Carl leaned into Angela and said, “I want to get out of here.”
When they were out on the street, he propelled past her, onto the road, hailing a cab.
“Alright mate?” a group of men asked him. He tripped over the curb.
"Your boyfriend is drunk,” the men told Angela.
“ She’s not my girlfriend,” Carl said and the men hollered. Carl curled into himself and threw up into his palm, then dropped the sick onto Bourke Street.
The cab winded into what Angela supposed was St. Kilda, where he had told her he lived, though she didn't know, she’d never been. All she did since arriving in Melbourne was cater and go on dates.
He showed her his bedroom and Angela saw a photograph of him holding a woman with blonde hair in front of The Twelve Apostles.
“Is that your girlfriend?”
Carl lay face down on the bed and groaned into the blankets. “Yes,” he said, “but we can’t be together.” So they weren’t going to have sex, Angela felt relieved. Perhaps it had been obvious for some time.
“Why?” she asked.
“Because she’s a Mormon and she hates how much I drink. I said I’d be a Mormon too, but I’m not good enough for her. No matter what I do, if I’m sober, if I’m a Mormon.”
Angela asked him if he’d like a glass of water. But he was already asleep and snoring.
She slept beside him in the bed. In the morning she opened and smelled each girl product in the shower. They smelt like candles. She looked at herself in the mirror. She really was beautiful, she had an effect on men. Her back in this lighting was phenomenal. What if she wrote down her number and left it for Carl beside his bed? Would he quit drinking for her as well? What if she asked him? It was nine a.m. She had to be at the convention centre in fifteen minutes if she wanted to make check-in to facilitate the breakfast buffet. But she didn’t want to. She left the apartment building and started walking.
She followed the bigger and bigger houses, down towards the beach. When she got to the palm trees, she took off her shoes and socks.
There, in the sand in front of her, was the baby.
“Are you surprised to see me?” it asked.
“No,” she said, after thinking about it for a little while. Even though she had been so shocked the night before, she said, “I think I knew I would see you. I’ve thought about you a lot.”
“Really?” asked the baby.
“Sort of,” she said. She knew she wasn’t supposed to, she knew she was supposed to have moved on.
There were other people on the beach, though it felt to Angela that her and the baby were the only things to have ever happened in the whole world.
“So what have you been up to?” asked the baby. “Are you still designing sets?”
She shook her head. “Not really. It was just the one.”
“You wanted to design sets for a living,” the baby said. “You used to say you wanted to design sets for Broadway.”
“No, that wasn’t serious.”
“You used to talk about it all the time.”
“No.” She felt humiliated by remembering, it was such a joke. “I was probably just joking.”
“So what are you doing here, in Australia?”
She didn't know.
The baby smirked. “So you’re not doing anything?”
“Well, what are you doing?”
“I’m a baby. Or at least, I’m trying to be.”
They walked silently into the shade of a high rise and sat down. There should have been lots to talk about, but Angela couldn't think of anything to say and after while no longer tried to. She was relaxed and pushed sand through her fingers.
“Do you know any Mormons?” she asked the baby, finally.
The baby scoffed, “I don’t know anyone.” It seemed to be getting testy, angry about how it had never had a life.
“It’s not my fault,” Angela said, “they told me you would just float around for a while and then go to another family who wanted you. It’s not my fault that this turned out to be misinformation.”
“Maybe it wasn’t,” said the baby.
“What do you mean?”
“You’re going to another family?” Angela’s pulse began to quicken. The air was so hot, even under the shade.
“Nothing,” it said.
The baby turned to her, with its eyes sharp. “It’s not another family, as if you were one. It’s a family. It can’t just be two people.”
“So you’re going?” Now her voice was lower.
“I’m not getting my hopes up.”
Angela thought about how the baby had first been taken out of her, when she lay in the medical chair reclined 100% back, staring up at the ceiling where a postcard with a photograph of a beach had been taped. The beach on the postcard was not so unlike the beach they sat on now, as if she had somehow crossed a threshold to exist in the realm of cheap, DIY hospital art.
After the surgery was over, the nurse walked Angela into an adjacent room where a row of girls lay in beds divided by curtains. Each girl wore an identical gown, thin as paper. But which one of us wears it best? For a moment, Angela needed to know.
Both Angela and the baby stared into the water. The waves would grow with gentle conviction out of the ocean, reach their peak and then melt into the sand, as though they never existed. New ones who looked just like them, almost exactly, rose and fell in their place.
“What are they like?” Angela asked the baby, referring to the family.
“I don’t know,” it said, “I’m not getting my hopes up.”
“Have you had your hopes up before?” Angela asked.
“You know how it is,” the baby said, squinting into the sun.
“I was good you know, I had an understanding of light and texture. Like hanging curtains and stuff. Paul—the director, he told me. He’d worked at the university.”
The baby nodded.
“But it just got frustrating.” She went on: “All I was doing was designing.” She made models for set designs in shoe boxes. “I’d spend a whole day just making chairs out of cardboard. Sometimes, I even painted a design on the cardboard, say if the chair was supposed to be from the 60s or 70s. Sometimes the plays I designed for existed, sometimes they didn’t. But in the end they were for no one. I just put all the boxes in my parent’s garage. A big stack of them, like a cross section of an apartment building.”
“I should have been an actress,” she said, “but I don’t know why I always just wanted to stay in my room folding stuff instead.”
Two young people ran into the plot of ocean Angela and the baby had been watching. They started to kiss and the boy snuck his hand into the bottom of the girl’s bathing suit, like they were the only two people in the world. What if the baby left me right now? Angela thought. What if where the baby went was right in front of her, there in the waves as the boy and girl’s toes curled into the sand of deeper and deeper water. The baby would shrink, float through the air and then, as the girl gasped in the arms of the boy, slip down her throat like a pill, rooting itself within her layers. Over time, the baby would have never belonged to Angela in the first place. What if that was how it worked? What if that was the truth? That despite everything Angela knew and had been told, the things she thought had a point to them after all.
Though if it bothered her that much, why didn't she just run back to the apartment where she had slept, ring the bell and say, “I think I left my earrings by the sink,” or “My cell phone’s on your nightstand, can I just come in for a second?” From which point it would be simple. They’d only have to look at each other, in the specific and shy ways she’d learned from music videos as a teenager. It had worked for Angela before, so it was possibly worth a try now. Even if he spent the whole time pretending she was someone else, that was his right.
Except who wanted to have a baby? All the time and for every day of her life? No, on second thought, she wouldn't want to do that, how monotonous. So then Angela would have to lie back in another chair, maybe with a postcard of the mountains on the ceiling, and come out so screwed up about it that all she’d do for days was watch YouTube videos of “Rihanna’s Bitchiest Moments,” then finally decide to fly across the world for a second time, ending up exactly where she began.
“Are you doing anything today?” she asked the baby. Maybe if it were free, they could take the train downtown and go to a museum.
The baby shrugged. “Baby stuff,” it said.
“Like what?” she asked. What could babies like this one possibly have to do? She imagined a whole herd of them, floating over the glittering ocean. A gang of beiges and browns, just having fun and talking shit about the bodies they had lived inside of.
“You wouldn’t get it,” the baby said, “you’re not a baby.”
That was true. She was twenty-four.
It was almost noon. Angela was definitely fired from her job, or she wasn’t, and she’d get to serve more rich people meals. But she wanted to keep hanging out with the baby, for just a little bit longer.
“Ok,” said the baby, “but I can’t stay here forever, I’m going to have to leave at some point.”