In May, 2015 we profiled Oliver Mol, an emerging Australian author who had just released his debut novel ‘Lion Attack!’ The novel is a refreshing rethink of the blurred line that exists between fiction and non-fiction, serving equally as a snapshot of his generation and own life experiences. A structure utilised, in part, to assist in the novel’s subtle exploration of a variety of issues — including homophobia, feminism and masculinity — alongside the story’s central narrative.
Recently, we reached out to Mol to see what he’d been working on. Sadly, he informed us that he’d be battling an ongoing migraine almost constantly for the past year or so. Now finally on the path of recovery, Mol has penned a short story of the experience, entitled ‘The Most Beautiful Story In The World’, covering not only this period of his life, but also Sydney’s lockout laws, love, mental health and more. All, once more, presented within a purgatory context, stranded between diary entry realism and fictional fable.
The story will be presented on May 16th at Sydney Stories, an event part of this year’s Sydney Writers Festival. Ahead of which, the complete story is available exclusively below, accompanied with illustrations by Carla Uriarte.
I was trying to write about the most beautiful story in the world. This story about a woman and a man and obesity and mistakes and semen and crying. And I was getting somewhere. The man and the woman were at the doctor’s office and they’d been trying to get pregnant but they were tired. The woman was saying, We’ve been fucking for a year but: nothing, and the man was saying, I think there’s something wrong with us, and then the doctor was explaining that things have a habit of working out and to be brave and that, sir, if you wouldn’t mind leaving the room I’ll examine your wife first.
But then something happened: my head started hurting. And I thought this: oh no. And I thought this: not again. And I thought this: fuck. I’d had migraines before but this one felt different, maybe worse somehow. So the migraine was on its way but I kept writing I mean I had to I knew where the story was going and I couldn’t stop now.
So I wrote how the lady lay on her back and the doctor began lifting the fat around her stomach and pelvis to get to her vagina. And how she was apologising. How she was saying, I’m sorry, doctor. I’m sorry if I smell. You see, she couldn’t shower by herself, and her boyfriend had been pulling day shifts at Coles and night shifts at the Tobacconist in Kings Cross. They were getting ready. They were preparing for a baby. This beautiful thing they were going to make together.
But then I got dizzy. I began sweating. I walked to the bathroom and splashed water on my face. I looked in the mirror. My eyes were bloodshot and my head veins were sticking out and I kept imagining a tiny version of myself who lived inside my head/face using a shovel to smash my frontal lobe.
So I closed my eyes. I kept writing. I wrote how soon the guy was gonna lose his tobacconist job because no one went out in Kings Cross anymore. And how, secretly, he was kind of glad his wife wasn’t pregnant yet, because how were they going to feed it? And how were they gonna clothe it? And how⎯but then I couldn’t focus on the screen anymore because the pain had grown into PAIN and oh fuck it felt like something inside my head was stretching and breaking and stretching and breaking and stretching and breaking and stretching and stretching and then: something broke. Or it felt like it did. I don’t know.
I walked to the park and vomited.
Next to me there was a car with a bumper sticker that said: WINE ME/DINE ME/69 ME.
I lay on my back and cried.
Listen: I tried to stay positive. I’d had migraines before. I knew they only lasted a couple of days. So I did what I’d always done. I knocked myself out. I took migraine medications and muscle relaxant medications and I lay on my bed staring at the ceiling or the fan or out the window. Thinking. Or trying not to think.
I’d begun dating this girl, Maria. She lived in Melbourne and had moved back in with her parents after losing her job. Sometimes we’d talk on the phone about the whiskey she was stealing from her dad or this kid I knew in year four whose brother cut off his nipple in the middle of the night with a pocketknife or the past lovers we’d had and the shitty, not shitty things people do to one another. But mostly I took painkillers. I masturbated. I tried not to cry. I cried. I remembered the story about the woman and the man and the obesity and the mistakes and the semen and the crying. I remembered how it was meant to be the most beautiful story in the world. I remembered the pregnant wife and the working guy and the baby but where was the baby? And how did it end? I tried to remember but I couldn’t remember. So I did what I could. I slept.
And then more days passed. The pain was there when I woke and the pain was there when I slept. I saw doctors. I saw optometrists. I saw ophthalmologists. I saw neurologists. People said it was food. People said it was water. People said it was stress. I told Maria everyone smiled that same smile. What smile? That Christian smile, I said. The fake one. The smile you make when you have no idea what’s going on. The smile you make when you’re full of shit.
Are you okay? No, I said. Maybe I should move to Sydney, she said. I could live in your room. Plus we could fuck. I told her I heard fucking was good for migraines. Sometimes I don’t like myself, she said, but I think with you I could like myself.
Then something happened. Maria moved to Sydney. One morning we walked to Woolworths to buy kidney beans and tomato cans. This lady couldn’t decide between Doritos and Cheesy Doritos. She kept going, shit, then, mmm, then, shit, while looking around. She put one hand on the Doritos and another hand on the Cheesy Doritos. Sort of feeling them up. Eye-fucking her boyfriend or husband at the same time. Then she said, We’re getting both these fuckers, baby, and dropped both chip varieties into her trolley before making out with her boyfriend or husband for a long time. I thought: all the fuckers. I looked at the things around me, at Maria and the salsa and the sauces and the chips and the people, and at the end of the aisle in the reflection of the freezer I looked at myself and said, All the fuckers. It felt like something. All of us being together. It felt like hope.
I got you a present, Maria said. Mum gave me $30. I bought you a sandwich press. We smiled at each other. After rent, we’d been living on something like $50 per week. I’d been paying for everything and thought we needed food more. Jesus, relax, Maria said. We made toasties from curry leftovers and drank two bottles of Cleanskin wine. Are you going to write about me when you can write again? Maria asked. You wouldn’t want me to write about you, I said. Why? Because people don’t want to read about nice people. They want to read about the people who are fucked.
Other times I’d go for walks. Maria would be out applying for jobs or going to interviews or sleeping and I’d walk to the park behind Central and do push-ups and sit-ups in the grass. I’d do them until I couldn’t feel anything, until I couldn’t do any more and then I’d just lie there. I figured if I couldn’t write anything and if I couldn’t remember the most beautiful story in the world then maybe I could come up with something new. And so I imagined new stories with new endings or maybe just old stories that I’d remembered. I pictured myself in front of a computer, typing. I imagined myself not lonely, but alone. I remembered a story about this family of athletes from Afghanistan who had a mutation in their sodium pump. This meant that they couldn’t feel pain. They’d break their legs and not feel their legs breaking. They were all circus performers and they all died in their 20s because of injuries they didn’t know they had.
But the job hunt wasn’t going well. In the evenings I’d come home from work. Did you get a job? Nope. Did you get a job? Nope. Why? Because I was too busy cooking and answering your dumb emails. This was another thing. People were writing and wanting me to do things. Writely things. But I couldn’t answer them. I couldn’t even message. So Maria was answering my emails now. I’m not your secretary, she said. Or maybe I am. Maybe I’ve already got a job. I put my head under my pillow and bit the sheet. Well, if you’ve got a job maybe you could start paying some rent, I said. We looked at each other. I knew what I said hadn’t made sense. I could leave at any moment, she said. I could walk away and not feel a thing.
So I began to see a psychologist. I didn’t know what else to do. Her name was Kate. I’d had the migraine for 10 months now and I felt like the pain was beginning to change me. Fuck off, I thought. Fuck off. Fuck off. But it wouldn’t fuck off at all. I told her that they’d figured it out, something to do with the joints in my neck and that I had a slightly slipped disk, which, my physio said, was almost certainly causing horrific migraines. But it was more than that too. My optometrist told me I had weak eyes and that I’d blown out my visual system, that I had to re-learn how to focus on things, how to look at things up close. I told Kate I’d had the migraine for so long I felt like the past was erasing itself, that I was beginning to forget, that if I couldn’t remember a time before the pain then how was I meant to see into the future? I knew there weren’t always answers for things in this world but I told her if I couldn’t find one soon I’d have to do something myself.
And so she asked about my dreams. I told her that I didn’t have any goals, that I felt they were impossible, that I was taking each day as it came, that I could barely open my eyes on trains. Everything goes so fast outside the window it’s hard for me to focus, I said. I’m not talking about daydreams, she said. I’m talking about the ones you have at night. And so I told her those ones too. About growing up in Texas, the cross-country coach who rode his bike next to us in 100 degree heat yelling, HEY COCKSUCKERS and, IF ANY OF YOU LITTLE FAGGOTS GO CRYING TO YOUR MOMMY, BOY, I’LL DRIVE MY FOOT SO FAR UP YOUR ASS NOT EVEN JESUS BE ABLE TO SAVE YOU. About the guy in my sister’s year who accidentally shot his sister in the face with a revolver. I told her about the nightmares Maria had, though I wasn’t sure if I was meant to, where she slept with a smile on her face, sometimes yelling, talking about things that didn’t make sense. Not the garage. It’s okay, Maria. Not the ocean. Wake up, Maria. Please. But she wouldn’t wake up at all.
But this was getting depressing. I wanted her to know that this wasn’t the real me. I wanted to tell her that I had ideas. Funny ideas. That I could laugh. That I remembered laughing. And for some reason I remembered in year two when I’d gone to school as Hairy Maclary for fancy dress, that I’d taken the sheep skin rug from home and tied it to my back, that for an entire day I’d refused to get up, that I’d crawled around on my hands and knees.
Sometimes things are okay, I told Kate. Sometimes, in the evenings, Maria and I would go out and I would take a bunch of panadol and/or codeine and/or muscle relaxants and later Dexies and/or MDMA and/or cocaine and/or ketamine and/or speed, which, even for a little while, would let me forget, or no, remember, I said. Remember what? What it felt like before, I said. She nodded. I felt like I should continue. So I told her when it would be three or four or five in the morning, when the whole of Sydney would be locked out and we would be at our friend’s pub drinking, smoking, listening to Royal Headache or Gucci Mane or Lee Hazlewood or Amateur Dance or Chris Isaak. When I was around friends, numb, but also not numb, as if my head had been replaced with a head from long ago, that had things it wanted to do and could picture itself doing them⎯writing, reading, messaging, messaging Mum to tell her I loved her, maybe studying, doing a job that involved computers or papers or anything up close, being on a train moving very quickly between Martin Place and Kings Cross and feeling no pain, looking out the window, bursting from the tunnel in sun-down light with Woolloomooloo on the left, remembering Woolloomooloo, working at The East Sydney, when the future seemed like something attainable, something to strive for, before⎯that I needed those times, that without those times I wouldn’t have been in her office, that I couldn’t have imagined myself anywhere at all. Kate stared at me. We didn’t say anything for a while.
Then she said this: I want you to write a letter. A letter to yourself in the future, when you’re 70 years old. I don’t know if I can, I said. But here’s the thing: I didn’t mean I was so sad I couldn’t picture myself in the future. I was talking about the process of it. The writing part. I couldn’t even read a train ticket.
So that night I sat in my room and picked up my pen. Maria was watching some BBC Earth documentary and leopards were eating gazelles. It looks like they’re kissing, she said. And then she looked at me. You’re going to hurt yourself, she said. I don’t care, I said. If I can’t do this there’s no point. What are you talking about, she said. Don’t be an idiot. But I was beyond that now. And I looked at her and in that moment I remembered. I remembered the ending to the most beautiful story in the world. I remembered the doctor lifted the fat around the lady’s stomach and pelvis to get to her vagina and when she did she found a year’s deposit of dried semen between her folds. She’d been getting fucked in the stomach for over a year and she didn’t even know. And when the doctor told the lady she smiled for a second but then that second passed and she began to cry. Oh, but these weren’t tears of sadness, no, these were tears of hope. There was a chance she could reproduce now. Because sometimes in this world we are given second chances, we are given reasons to hope.
And so here I am nearly two years later. The pain has gone, mostly, and I’m surrounded by old exercise books and forgotten notes. I’m thinking about the past and about endings, about the ways people end.
I read a story about the nursing home my grandfather was in and his brain tumor and the 97 year old lady who slept in the bed opposite who thought she was on a ship because she woke up soaked in her own piss every morning.
I read a story about my friend Dan-The-Man who fell off his BMX when he was 13 after taking a turn too hard and how he got brain damage.
But then I find something else. An old note, a small note from Maria that says:
I didn’t mean when I said, I could leave at any moment. I’m just afraid. I’m scared of myself and other people. I don’t want to leave because leaving is what I always do. It’s unhealthy and self-destructive and I kind of am too but I’m trying to be well.
And then on the back:
You seem different and it makes me scared and not the good kind of scared but I want to stay because you are not only worth more but worth the most, I think.
And the truth is I’ve been writing this story for 11 months now and the part I keep coming back to, the part that doesn’t make sense is this:
The night Maria hurt herself, she held me while I cried. Why did you do it? Because sometimes I have to, she said. What do you mean? Because nobody changes, she said. But then, after a pause, Because for a second, sometimes, the pain makes me new.
For now I give myself to these stories because at least it’s something. Because I can recognise myself in them. Because it’s comforting. Or maybe not. Maybe it’s something else. Maybe they are places to hide, these stories, places to hurt.
Perhaps, one day, old teeth will become new teeth and old lips new lips. And we will use them to smile through the sound of it all, multiplied together.
But for now I will stay here, suspended in this narrative, rearranging the past, and I will do what I’ve always done: I will try to find answers in the places where there aren’t any and I will look for meaning in the things that don’t make any sense.