Ellen Perdriau

Out in Gestures

I text Scully to tell him I’ll fuck him in exchange for a Xanny. Haven’t slept in days.

It can’t be that bad, really.

The sex, not the sleep. Not sleeping’s killing me.

I shouldn’t really be driving like this. Emily and Mike will shake their heads over the soup tureen when I arrive. They smell my hunger for some kind of parent. In exchange I rollerblade in and out of their lives with ridiculous stories.

‘You’re not going to believe who I slept with this weekend.’

‘Have you seen this bruise yet? Look at the bloody size of it.’

‘You guys know any natural UTI remedies?’

The answer to the last one was ‘go to the doctor, fucksake.’ I just need to be in one place long enough to attend an appointment. It’s on my list.


Last week I hit Damien in the face. Cut into his left eyebrow with Mum’s ring. Hurt me more than him. I called him the next day to apologise, he laughed. Neither of us could remember what it was about.

The indent on my middle finger has faded, but my hands still look injured. Two of my fingers are yellow. The space just between my third knuckle on my index finger and the third knuckle on my middle finger. When I was younger I visualised depression as an ugly yellow haze. Turns out nicotine is the exact same colour.

My guts churn as I drive, cut up by something. It’s a constant state of irritation at this point.

I tried eating toast today. The texture of dry bread in my mouth brought up bile I’ve been trying to keep down for weeks. I can fuel myself with other things. Lately my brain’s been flicking like a broken speedo between wired and fast asleep.

I’ve never had this much energy, it’s scary.


I lose a car tyre on the way to Scully’s. Take a corner too fast. Hit a curb and it blows right off, pieces of jagged rubber splattered on the tram tracks. I hear the bang before I register the curb. Louder than necessary really, given the mistake.

The steering lurches left and I mix up the pedals and accelerate, pitching into a traffic island. Pathetic.

I sit frozen in the car for minutes, trying to will myself out of my own body as an audience approaches. Imagining the optics of my bloodshot eyes and several ignored warning lights flickering on the dashboard.

It also feels so pleasantly indulgent, holding this many people up.

My feelings keep leaking out in gestures, my feet on the pedals, my hands when touched. Not thoughts. Never words.


I used to let myself feel things. I’d even share feelings with others. Discuss them rationally over video chat. My partner and I would go for daily walks at midday and collect fallen banksias to dry and put in empty gin bottles for that spot in the corner where the light hit just right. Then I’d shop online and show him pictures of sustainable house decorations and make a plant-based dinner for two and we’d curl up together to look up appropriate dog breeds for a small backyard.

I’d fall asleep congratulating myself for tapping into my emotional and physical needs and fulfilling them with routine and discipline. One hundred and twelve days of spinning the illusion of progress from a series of stagnant circles.


Scully doesn’t answer his phone. I can’t make the rest of the trip ’til my hands stop shaking. Damien answers his.

‘Whad ja do?’

‘Blew a tyre on Sydney Road.’

‘Need me to fix it?’ He gives off that sigh men do when your lack of competence makes them feel important.

‘Nah, did it myself.’

I don’t tell him that my hands were shaking so much trying to lift the spare out from under that stupid flap in my boot that I slipped and bent all the nails on my left hand back so they cracked.

Or that I squealed in pain and the man in his mid-forties I’d been trying to bat away because I can do it myself, I have done it several times in theory, I just needed time and space and somewhere less fucking public, plucked the tyre from the place it had fallen, propped it against the side of the car and went back for the jack.

‘Good girl,’ Damien says.

Fuck Off.

‘Can I come round? Got the shakes.’

‘I dunno why you got your own place anyway,’ he answers. I turned down his big empty front room last month. Didn’t want anyone keeping tabs on me.

‘I’m working through some shit. Can I come or nah, you sound busy.’

‘Yeah fine, come round. I’m not putting the cat out this time though, it’s too cold.’

I’m nearly out of rope with this one, I can tell.

The start was good. The start’s always good. When I bring my absolute best funnest self with no cracks what-soever. And every time I hear ‘good girl’ or ‘that’s it baby’ I grind my teeth and remind myself that I chose this for a reason. To stop me envisioning anything beyond the right now. To stop me falling back into the trap I just escaped from. Daily walks, examined emotions, caring about things.


The other day I watched Mike and Emily on the verge of an argument and I made it worse. Not accidently, I engineered it to be worse. I zoomed out and saw everything fall apart in slow motion and knew exactly what to do to blow it up.

Mike was slurring his words. He had Emily’s favourite necklace behind his back on the cold porch steps among the cigarette butts and chipped mugs of cheap Prosecco.

‘I don’t have it, what are you talking about?’

‘Mike seriously give it back! It’s my grandma’s. If I lose it I’m fucked. Seriously Mike.’

‘I seriously don’t ’ave it.’

I passed behind Mike, hooked the necklace over the toe of my boot and kept walking.

‘OK, OK, I’ll give it back, Jesus,’ he said in reaction to a hot tear welling up in the corner of her glittery eye.

He reached behind him and I saw first confusion and then horror.

‘It’s gone!’ He sat up and patted his hands around and under him.

Emily boiled over. More steaming tears tracked purple eyeliner down her cheeks. Her face contorted and she started shrieking.

‘You absolute fucker, you know how important that is to me!’

‘Stop screaming at me you crazy bitch, I’ll find it fucksake, it’s around here somewhere.’

And then Emily flew at him and someone had to pull them apart and I stood a bit away, fixated.

There’s a fine point, like the white point of light through a prism before it expands into a spectrum of colours, between not sleeping and not eating and not thinking and achieving complete control of your surroundings.

Later I cradled Emily’s head as she cried about what fucking dicks men could be and that she wasn’t crazy, he had completely driven her to that point and then made her look psycho. And I slipped the necklace into her pocket and nodded.


I can’t scrub that yellow stain off my fingers. I’ve tried three different exfoliants.

I have not tried giving up smoking. The stain’s creeping into the weekdays, over my teeth, seeping through the calcium deposits and the plaque. My mouth blooms with ulcers. Pithy threads catch between my teeth and rip loose. I spit them onto the carpet under my pedals.

Scully calls as I get out of the car and I miss it. I call him back but he doesn’t answer.

Come on Scully.

I need to be where things are happening. Scully and Mike and Emily and a revolving door of vague acquaintances, all pissed off and given up and tuned out. Along for a ride they don’t realise they’re steering. Apathy is such a comfort for my burnt-out brain, my torn up heart.

I’m mad about the cracked nails. They’re worn to shit enough as it is. I can’t stop biting them. I just find it so comfortable sliding them between the uneven parts of my incisors and slicing. Returning to oral fixations during times of intensity. Mouth like a womb, beating with warmth, recognisable, comfortable. Cracked, in my case.

I can’t even remember the last time I had a period. Good fucking riddance. Nature agrees that I’m no woman right now. I’m a desert. It would be a great story to bring to dinner though.

Guess who needs an abortion.

Could sort the UTI and the baby in one appointment. 

I think Silicon Valley calls it biohacking, when you disconnect yourself from nature’s natural rhythms, pushing your body to extremes to try and reach a higher point of functionality. I’m pretty sure the Buddha tried the same thing 2,000 years ago and his conclusion was to put everything back in balance. Whatever, they’ll get there once the fires reach the data hives.

My rhythms are all out, but not for functionality. I’m trying to achieve a life of optimum spontaneity.


Before the Great Unprecidence I had this watch and it was wound four minutes fast to stop me missing trains and it was waterproof so I never took it off. When the disease spread and time slowed down I began to notice how loud it ticked.

The ticking sound followed me everywhere and I became so agitated I started looking for the heartbeat of the man I must have killed. On my next daily walk the tick-ticking got so loud that I ripped the band from my wrist and flung it into the creek. It made a distinctive sound as it hit the polluted froth gathering at the rocks.

The impact woke something in me and now I can’t just sit down to a nice dinner. I crave the shatter-crunch of breaking glass, knees and elbows hitting pavement, phone cases bouncing down stairs.

Call me back Scully fucksake.


I wonder if I rile someone up enough whether they’ll punch me in the face. What a release. Would the pain be dull or splitting? That initial thwack—would it come as a shock or would I experience it in slow motion? Would I punch them back or just crumple? I wish girls got into more physical fights. All my friends want to do is support each other. Don’t they get the insatiable urge to just fucking hit something?

I didn’t even get the satisfaction when that slowly-built world of good habits and future plans dissolved in a conversation. It took so few words, the passion so withered it was not worth uttering them above a mumble.

I don’t think I see any future in us. No popped tyre bang or crazy fucking bitch or cut to the eyebrow. I wanted the ocean to rise up and crash down on our heads but it was all calm and ‘No no, you stay here, I’ll leave,’ and stoically dividing the furniture and throwing the dried banksias in the bin.


I knock on Damien’s door and I can see his cat taunting me through the front window, tongue smearing saliva on the glass like it does to the pillows on the guest side of the bed. Guaranteed to keep me up into the night, eyes glued shut with mucus, sneezing in time with Damien’s snores. The door opens and Damien catches me glaring.


‘How’s the car?’ He looks out past me, trying to assess how bad the fuck up was.

‘I parked it round the corner ’cause I knew you were gonna do that.’

‘Do what?’

I walk past him inside.

‘You hungry?’ he calls after me, ‘I can heat you up some leftovers.’

There’s a wine glass with a few sips left and an abandoned joint smouldering in the living room ashtray. I swallow the wine and take a big hit of the joint so it lights up orange again and crackles and pops. I try focusing on one point in space and find even my eyes are shaking.

‘You OK?’ There’s a knife edge in the question.

‘Yeah.’ I look down at the empty glass and catch a glimpse of my own rudeness. ‘Sorry.’

‘Did something else happen aside from the tyre?’

‘Nah, I think it’s just like the…’ I put my hands together in the shape of a triangle, indicating towards the top.

‘The peak?’


‘I’ll say you’re peaking, you look like you’re pinging off the walls.’

‘I mean like the pinnacle, the joining of multiple things. I haven’t been letting myself think.’

‘I’ll say,’ he says again. ‘Let me get you some food.’

He starts chatting to me through the door about his work and that he ran into a mutual friend two days ago. I feel my phone vibrating and stop listening.

‘Got that Xanny for ya, ya desperate bitch,’ Scully cackles and hangs up.

The white light slips, the colours disperse. I feel myself give control back to the present. No rhythms, no ticking, no meticulous banksia collecting. Who knows where I’ll end up tonight. 

Damien comes back in with two steaming plates just as I’m swinging my coat back over my bag.

‘Where are you going?’


‘I just heated up dinner,’ offended, and then paternal, ‘at least eat a little.’

It feels like such a power play given his reluctance on the phone. Throwing it back at me to be the disappointment. I dip my yellow-stained finger in the sauce.

‘Mmmm, delicious thank you.’

My bag hits the doorframe as I head back down the hall. The cat hisses.

‘Why do you keep doing this to yourself?’ he calls after me. I love it when people ask me that so much it stops me thinking about the answer. 

Ellen Perdriau

Ellen Perdriau is an emerging writer brought up in Naarm, Australia. They have been published in Voiceworks, The Big Issue and Right Now.