by Oliver Zarandi
Oliver Zarandi is a writer and photographer. His first book, Soft Fruit In The Sun (Hexus, 2019), was called "tender body horror" that felt like "getting a hug from David Cronenberg." His work has appeared in Hotel, Hobart, iD, and Diagram.
YOUR FRIEND, ALF ALFSON, AGED 0-61
Wow! Life is short and quick and ugly. It’s over too soon. Please, if you treat life like a piece of food, please chew it well and perhaps suck on it in the corner of your cheek.
My parents named me Alf Alfson. I was born and then my bones grew quickly. They got longer, they multiplied.
My parents wanted to savor my childhood, so they hired a doctor to slow my growth.
Doc, they said, can he stay a child for a bit longer?
I don’t know, he said. I think he might just keep getting older.
He was right. I kept growing and kept aging. I was a toddler—then I wasn’t.
I was ugly.
I remember urinating with boys in the playground. One boy had a penis glans like a bruised egg.
It was clear my parents couldn’t suck my childhood in their cheeks forever.
My dad was a firefighter and my mom was a cook. I had parents and then I didn’t. They were both eaten by flames and it was clear I couldn’t suck on their love in my cheeks forever either.
I remember pulling at my own cheeks in frustration as another child laughed at my dead parents.
I dislike birthdays because when I was 8, my parents invited several "friends" round to play. They were all disappointed in my collection of games. One boy turned up in a suit with a bow tie. He was embarrassed. I was embarrassed too.
I once bounced a basketball on an anthill and didn’t leave until every ant was dead.
My childhood was 12 years old. Everything after that was different.
The ages of 13 to 18 were, for me, bible paper. It doesn’t look like much, but there’re a lot of pages there, and a lot of things to consider.
I didn’t eat any food for these five years and lost a lot of weight. I chewed food and stored it in my cheek.
I developed strange sexual proclivities.
When people asked me why I didn’t eat, they assumed I was sexually abused. I don’t know, I said. Maybe.
I believe these years were filled with trauma the same way a cake is filled with fruit. Sometimes trauma is tasty and makes you interesting, sometimes even you can’t stomach it and people think you’re an unhealthy thing.
After I was 18, I was 20. I didn’t like the number 19 and never did, so I skipped it.
My twenties was a long road and a few toilets. I cleaned toilets and didn’t save money. I had hair, then I didn’t. I didn’t savor my hair in my cheek.
My hair fell out, but only on the top—it stayed around the side of my head, like a monk. I decided to take it all off.
I made friends in my twenties.
I had sex in my twenties. The sex was bad for them, but good for me.
I thought I was invincible, but then I got run over by a delivery driver.
I thought I was invincible, but then my attention shifted from the births of famous people to the death of famous people.
Erik Satie died of pleurisy.
James Brown died of pneumonia.
Jane Austen had weak nerves and showed an irregular deterioration into the big sleep.
I had anxiety in my twenties, so I’d fill a bowl with ice water and put my head in it.
Gladiator seems like a new film to me, but it was, in fact, 21 years ago. Russell Crowe now has grey hair and a face like a pink croissant.
21 years ago is a long time and it isn’t a long time.
I got my first gray chest and pubic hairs in this decade.
I have friends who are younger than me and friends who are older than me and they all have different opinions about Gladiator.
I lost several family members in this decade and death became normal, like a friend you take to the ball game. Death sits down next to you and you’re not surprised, it says how are you, you say, yes, fine, wow, fancy seeing you here hehe.
Death took my aunt after she fell down some stairs and broke her head.
Death took a grandfather of mine because he was old and his heart was tired.
Death took a friend of mine—cancer rented out his lungs and continued making payments until the lungs were no longer my friend’s.
Death ran one of my friends over. Death burst a blood vessel in my friend’s brain. This friend liked maritime activities and now they can’t think about ships again.
I found a partner and we created a child together. The child was not long for this world and didn’t survive. We returned the child to the earth. My partner and I decided not to pursue love together and shook hands, thanked each other—I wish you well, wherever you go.
It is funny to think that at 40 years old, I didn’t know I was going to die in 21 years time. Ridley Scott could have made the film Gladiator and garnered a legion of fans in that same period of time.
A slow, but inevitable decline. My toes have hurt since my thirties. In fact, most bones have ached for many years now, but only in my fifties did this aching turn sinister.
If I could grade my organs I’d say:
I confuse organs with limbs, the same way that people think tomatoes are a vegetable.
I was not surrounded by loved ones. I filled my time with hobbies, but I grew weary of them. Things are only good if you’re watched by others or congratulated for doing them.
Life is a theater production where we do silly activities as we rot!
But the beauty, the horror.
The oil painting I present to you, at the end of my life, is a landscape. The colors are tasteful, the composition considered. A painting is a flat thing to the eye, but in our minds it is endless.