Billie (circa 2010-2020)

Honi Soit Writing Competition Fiction Shortlist


the beeping keeps her up all night

that and the too-white lights

she’s not here to sleep, far as she can tell, though she’s on a mattress – strapped to a mattress – wires running from sticky patches on her chest to bedside machines

the hospital sheets make her feel dirty, grimy, germy; how many expiring old men have lain supine in this bed? how many soiled themselves? bled, pissed, drooled, soaked the sheets? breathed their last breaths? ask any of her friends from school, she’s a germaphobe at the best of times; a bit precious, a bit pole-up-her-ass – ruined the year 10 camping trip with her hysterics (sand, dirt, leaves in the tent!) and though they won’t pass up a chance to remind her of it, they forgive her, of course they forgive her, Billie can’t help it, it’s just the way she is

someone outside barks hand it over or something similar; a troop of navy torsos cluster at the door and she’s thrust into shadow

her name is said (the one she doesn’t go by), birth date, admission time, a smattering of numbers, letters, acronyms: braddy-cardy-ya, it sounds like, or brat-tea-car-dee-ah (she’d google it but they took her phone)

pens click, feet tap

wait, is this bed 3?

bed 3 discharged last night, this is bed 4


anorexia nervosa

footsteps thud-squeak-squeak-thud away and the light floods back in

a tearful exchange with her father when he comes to visit

they don’t know what else to call it, he says, meaning, show proof to the contrary

well, whatever it is, it’s not that, she snaps, but softly; not yet accustomed to her own churlishness

I eat, you’ve seen me eat, I eat all the time, I don’t not eat, I’m not that (every neighbourhood has one, a psychologist will say to her years later, half-smiling, and perhaps you’re yours) sad stick figure, militant mannequin, carving the same route through the streets day in, day out, all sinew and bone, angular, gawky, cadaverous

bird without feathers, without wings, without breasts – what’s left?

she doesn’t

she’s not


school gates open to steps leading down to bitumen sloping into gullet of deputy principal’s office

Billie enters, fresh and full (moon-faced), keenly aware that there’s more of her to look at now, more of her to look at and wonder where she’s been since term 2, why she’s only back now, the day of the school captain elections

in which she isn’t featuring as a candidate

five minutes to the morning bell and Billie heads toward B-block, steps onto the veranda where she finds Ellie and Ash awaiting her big(massive, she’d warned them) return

the new growths on her chest demand attention and Ellie goes to state the obvious before back-peddling at the sight of Billie’s expression, smiling instead and saying something about getting used to them

which sets Billie off anyway

which isn’t surprising, everything sets her off these days, she feels violated, trapped, truly goddamn awful, you’ve no idea, the fuckery of the past two months, and this great big bloated thing – she glares down at venus-esque undulations of tits, hips and stomach – I’ve got to cart around with me now

the bell rings and tears sting her eyes, Ash puts an arm around her and says not to worry, come to the computer rooms with year 12

which she does

so she’s not there in the main hall with the rest of the school to see the captaincy speeches, the gags and the pledges, the slogans and the charisma, the usual quips about attending a school on a hill belonging to some guy named Smith

and feel more like a fuck-up than she already does

the school days stagger doggedly along that first week back, punctuated by recess and lunch, both of which she spends in her mum’s parked car

which is what you get when you cannot be trusted to sit in the schoolyard with everyone else, remove the cling film from the sandwiches and convey them, crusts and all – that’s it, take a bite, no, a proper bite, stop that nibbling, for god’s sake! – to your mouth instead of the bin

cue the twice-daily walk of shame in front of her year group, which stakes out the front entrance of all places during breaks

up the steps, two at a time

navy plaid

doctor’s orders

no one is looking at you


they talk about lack

sometimes excess but mostly lack

five years between them and from opposite ends of Sydney, but Court is someone whose illness has left the same gaping holes

lack of         educational attainment

lack of         driving-a-car experience

lack of         drunk-hook-ups-and-late-nights-and-intimacy experience

things they’d forfeited in a rush to get nowhere

things they berate themselves for

on nights spent sitting at the nurses’ station, crocheting, filling in crosswords or folding paper cranes, memorising the lyrics to ice ice baby – amusements in which they are now fierce (manic, the nurses write in their notes) experts

in the level 2 courtyard, soaking up a carcinogenic blend of UV rays and cigarette smoke, mingling with patients from other wards, Billie and Court keep their diagnoses to themselves, not pinned to their lapels like certain others do – which is fine too, don’t get me wrong, you do you, no judgment, no judgment at all, they coo

fear of a name, Hermione says in the first (second?) film, only increases fear of the thing itself (‘cept in the book, it’s Dumbledore speaking)

either way it’s probably true, she thinks, the less you talk about it, the more it festers, EDs thrive in silence

at least that’s what they say

in group

along with

surf the urge

radical acceptance

opposite actions                                                                                         action with intent

recovery goals                                grounding for five

bigger picture                                                 

pros & cons

coping phrase (if the facilitator is Lynne)

psychobabble bullshit that Court gives a chance (it’s called CBT, she says defensively, and it works) but Billie just can’t seem to swallow

she sits through it anyway, tries not to huff audibly, tries to be a paragon of recovery, picking at the lint on her sleeves and wishing she was elsewhere, otherwise

ignoring the girl in the corner who will not stop jiggling her legs

because the two of you – Billie catches Court’s eye – are here to get better

while she clearly just wants to stay sick


when not with Court or otherwise concerned to preserve her dignity

Billie can be found doing sneaky push-ups, jumping jacks, squats in the bathroom stalls, taking herself off for walks around the block between checks

gulping down cup after cup of water on weigh days, breathing – for the gains – through the nausea

cheating the system when she can get away with it

and (increasingly) even when she can’t


Billie sits in the clinic waiting room, occupying one seat in an otherwise empty row of eight

it’s January (fuck, how is it already January?) and at this time of year, in this hemisphere, people prefer beach holidays to hospital admissions, even – or especially – the mentally ill


Billie tries to align cold-numb sneaker-clad feet exactly with the patterns of tessellating polygons in the carpet, willing the air-con to sputter and die so the room feels less like a refrigerator and she less conspicuously hypothermic (get some meat on your bones, someone screams in the distance)

on the TV above the receptionist’s desk, a man with an orange face and too much money is the newly-elected leader of the free world, and his mouth is exactly what Billie thinks of when she hears the word piehole

by god’s grace it’s set to mute, so the piehole opens and shuts noiselessly, comically

dummy sans ventriloquist

anyway, that’s a different hemisphere

(not that we can hide from it here)

we are each of us, she thinks but doesn’t say

that afternoon, feeling the blood-pressure cuff inflate and tighten around her arm, falter, deflate with a hiss

watching the nurse turn to record the numbers on a chart, humph when the pen doesn’t work

wrapped in devil’s ivy


I mostly keep to myself, Billie writes in the about me section of her rental application,

which is true and a virtue in these times

she gets the room, pays the bond, packs the car and moves up and in

for the first time, sleeps in a double bed

for the first time, orders a double-shot flat white

for the first time, feels more like a fully-functioning carbon-based life form, less like the other thing, particularly so on glorious (glorious!) days when the sunshine is delicious and dappled, when walking the length of Glebe Point Road feels like slipping through endless pockets of hot and cold

for the first time, gets the share-house-blues

there’s the housemate who lives off ten-calorie popsicles, noghurt, diet cola and aeroplane jelly (lite), the latter of which is passionfruit-flavoured and looks and smells like pus

there’s the piss-poor shower pressure and mould growing in the sink and the backyard that smells like the marijuana her housemates pretend not to smoke there

and the temptation to go without breakfast/lunch/dinner

as it is, long walks distract her from the food sitting in her stomach, which doesn’t cause her nearly as much distress as it used to but feels insidious – half-digested muesli sprouts arms and legs, kicks, hits, punches, tears at her insides, killing her from the inside out – nonetheless

in hospital, there was a girl who refused water, kept it up for days, brain steadily shrinking before the seizures began

one in the elevator, two in the group room, one (spectacular) in the dining room, in front of all the staff and patients from the mood disorders and drug and alcohol units (who, all things considered, probably enjoyed the excitement) before she was transferred to a different facility

Billie thinks about this sometimes

and the drought

and how scarcity drives people mad


she labours over a conclusion

for an essay she’s written but is too afraid to finish, let alone submit

chews her lip


like a premier women’s magazine, the multidisciplinary ED treatment team churns out glossy messages of empowerment, touts self-acceptance, self-care, self-compassion; in the same breath, it reminds us that we do not know our own brains, bodies or appetites, that we do not know how to take care of ourselves, that we need to heal, to nourish ourselves (with such and such a product, with such and such a caloric intake), go plant-based (or up the meat and dairy), drink more/less water (it artificially satiates!), pause and meditate, retrain our brains, rewire (get those neurons firing), breathe in the good, breathe out the bad, submit to the process, entrust our bodies and our busy little minds to the experts who’ll nip and tuck and perform the necessary adjustments, do this

[mindfulness/ body-sculpting/ self-soothing]

exercise three times daily – download the app for easier access and optimal results!

the scripts, the micro-aggressions, the bottom lines are the same

you, young lady, cannot be trusted

we know what’s best for you

help us

help you

help yourself

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