Set in inner-urban Melbourne, Stripped is a novel which revolves around two sisters: Lillian, a lawyer, and Sophie, a table-top dancer. Lillian is dying of cancer. Using multiple first-person narrators, the story takes a raw and intimate look at the effects of Lillian’s death on her family and friends.
Stripped, was serialised in nine parts in Meanjin (2008-2010) and was then published in full as a boutique edition of 500 copies with the help of a grant from the City of Melbourne in 2012.
Here are the first few pages of the novel:
Prologue: The end
In the end when she went it was so quick. She just got up and went through the doorway. Just like that. Direct. Strong. Courageous. She just went through, and then she was gone. I was waiting there by the doorway. She knew I was there. But she just left.
We were all prepared. We had been prepared for days. People on seats waiting. Waiting for a dramatic event. But we didn’t expect that. A quick exit. Like that.
There is an intense silence in the room. Mama is here. The nurse is here. The priest is here. Louise and Jack are here. Daniel is here. Martin is not here. The trip all the way out to Rowville appears to have been too much for him. This is not a surprise, just a dull truth.
And I am here.
Lillian is in bed. It appears that she is lying restfully in this bed that we hired from the hospital. We are all in the living room. It is still ugly in the living room, as ugly as the rest of the house, but at least there is more space for the bed and for the medical equipment and for us. And there is light. There are sliding doors, which open out into their barren back yard. There is a flatness of green and brown, then the fence, then roofs of other houses and then the sky.
We have all been here for a couple of days. Except Jack and Louise. They arrived late last night. It is 2.37 on this warm afternoon and a silence has descended. We are waiting. The sun is coming through the windows, bathing our legs. We are all looking out the window, even Lillian.
It is as if we are on a cruise ship, slowly moving towards our destination. As if we are in deckchairs watching the landscape roll by. Going up a river. Hills in the distance, but getting closer. We’ll be there soon. And so we wait.
Then Mama says, ‘What I don’t understand is why it started in her mouth. Lillian was always such a careful girl, not like Sophie. Careful, and particular. She never put anything in her mouth that she shouldn’t have. And as for me, I’ve got a good mouth too. I’ve always had a good mouth. People have always commented on it. What was it about her mouth I wonder that let this happen to her?
‘She must have said something she shouldn’t have. And it was probably the law. The law that did that. I mean she did a lot of good with that mouth of hers, a lot of good, I’m sure, not that she ever made the sort of money she should have. I mean I thought law was supposed to make you rich. So, maybe it was because once or twice she went too far and said the wrong thing, to the wrong person. Yes, went that little bit too far, further than she should have. What’s that expression? on TV? Oh yes, shoot your mouth off. That must have been it. She must have shot her … mouth off—well no, actually that’s not a very nice expression is it? No, not at all …
‘She always did speak her mind. Not immediately, not impetuously, as Sophie does, but nevertheless, always spoke her mind. They got that from their grandfather, the girls. He was a strong man, their grandfather. Yes Jack, that’s right, my father. Yes, strong. Strong. That’s where it came from.
‘But still, why? Why the mouth? I mean she had a rosebud mouth, that’s what people used to say, lips like a rosebud. Oh look, look at her lips. Look at my beautiful baby’s lips …’
I look at Lillian. Her lips open. Softly, gently, a wind begins to blow. Through her lips, out of her mouth. Her mouth opens wider. Little pieces of rubbish start to come out. A leaf, a piece of cotton, a little shred of pink ribbon. And then, as the wind picks up, more and more things come out, piles of things coming up out of Lillian’s mouth and hurled around the room in the strong wind: gumboots, books, glasses, gloves, papers, tears, hair, blood, an eye, a birthday cake, flowers, tubes, perfume, underwear, veins, more and more coming out of her and flying around the room.
The wind has picked up outside too. It is dark, as if a storm is coming. Dust is flying around the garden, grass clippings, bits of newspaper. A few specks of rain hit the glass. Everything is whirling, inside and out, and we all just sit there watching, awe-struck. Even Mama.
Then suddenly Lillian moves. Stirs. Sits up. ‘Stop,’ she says. Quietly. Clearly. Calmly.
The room calms. She gets up from the bed. She is light. She slowly gets up, unclips all the tubes, and gently eases herself out of the bed.
The wind is continuing to blow outside. But inside it is calm. Lillian gets up out of her bed, walks across the room, past Daniel, past Jack and Louise, past the glass door and then right past me to the wall, next to where I am sitting. There is nothing on the wall. It is painted a horrible shade of light blue. She stands there. Mama is looking. But everyone else is still looking at Lillian’s body on the bed. Then a door opens and light comes in through the wall. Through. Sunlight. Birds chirping.
And then she just walks through.
No fanfare, no fuss. She just walks through the door. And away. She has gone, and, for the moment, I am glad. Mama and I glance at each other. Her hands are clasped together and she is smiling. Smiling and crying at the same time.