Click on the arrow above to listen (In emails: click on the title above)
“Hi, I’m Elisabeth Hanscombe and I’m reading from a work in progress “Broken Teeth”.
When I run my tongue along the top of my teeth I find jagged edges. If I push down hard, bits crumble away. I try not to smile or laugh in front of other people. Whenever I speak I take my hand to my face and cover my mouth. I rest the tip of my fingers on my top lip so no one can see the yellow-brown incisors or the black line that runs down the centre of my front tooth.
My sister has a gold tooth in front, half her front tooth, shiny gold. She does not put her hand to her mouth. Her teeth are in good order, even with the gold. The gold is a sign of good repair. She does as she is told. She goes to the dentist. But I keep my pain a secret.
I know when the ache is coming, when the raw nerve pulses underneath the flaky layer of tooth, all that is left of my big back munching teeth. I smear on a glob of ice-cold toothpaste, minty fresh, as a way of killing the pain.
At night, I cover my head with my pillow. I roll from side to side. I roll my head over and over to block out the ache. I do not go to the dentist because the dentist will look into my mouth and he will say,
‘What have we here? You haven’t been cleaning your teeth, have you?’ And I will blush. The roots of my hair will tingle; a shiver will run down from my scalp to my armpits. They will itch and prickle. And I will want to shut my mouth fast, snap like a turtle, snap. Get your hands out of there, I will say. Do not touch me.
‘If he touches you scream,’ my sister says.
My father touches her. I know. I see him at night. He comes into our bedroom. We sleep in beds one beside the other. Up and down beds. Long brown beds. Good strong solid beds. There is a passageway that runs between them, a dark river of space, which my father fills in the night when he visits. The door opens and he pads in bare feet across the open river of floor.
I turn to face the wall. I squeeze my eyes shut. I am an aching tooth, the raw nerves exposed, waiting for my turn.
But he does not come to me. He goes to her. The rustle of blankets, the murmurs, the sighs. The soft in-breath, out-breath. The silence. And then he is gone. My sister snuffles in her bed. She cries silent tears.
My sister is the chosen one. My sister with her crooked teeth, her plump body and her mouse brown hair. She is the one he loves. More than me, he loves her. More than me he chooses her, and more than me she grows fat and full of him. ”
ABOUT ELISABETH HANSCOMBE:
Elisabeth Hanscombe is a psychologist and writer, who has published a number of short stories and articles in magazines and journals throughout Australia. She has submitted a PhD at LaTrobe University on the topic ‘Theories of Autobiography: Life writing and the desire for revenge’. She has published a number of short stories and essays in the areas of autobiography, psychoanalysis, testimony, trauma and creative non-fiction in Meanjin, Island, Tirra Lirra and Quadrant, as well as in the journal, Life Writing and in psychotherapy journals and magazines throughout Australia and in the US. She was short listed for the Australian Book Review’s 2009 Calibre essay prize.
“I spent a wonderful week at Varuna in 2010 during which time Peter Bishop introduced me to several ideas, including the notion that it takes time before a ‘book knows what it is’. I hold this in mind as I embark on the next stage of my journey, post PhD, when my book will finally and hopefully come know more about what it is.” Elisabeth Hanscombe
2011 ‘Autobiography Bears Witness,’ in Crossings, Life Writing Annual: Biographical and Autobiographical Studies, Vol. 3, 2011.
‘Straddling Two Worlds’, Island 121, Winter, 2010.
‘Straddling two worlds: the writer and the psychoanalytic psychotherapist’, Other/Wise, vol. 5, spring 2011, online journal of International Forum for Psychoanalytic Education, http://ifpe.wordpress.com/, viewed 20 July 2011.
‘Lost in Translation: Empathy, Language and the Impact of Migration’,
Australasian Journal of Psychotherapy, Vol. 28, Nos 1-2, 2009
‘Life Writing and the Desire for Revenge: Mediating Object Relations Theory and Autobiographical Practice’, Australasian Journal of Psychotherapy, Vol. 27, Nos 1-2
Book Review, Joseph Reppen, Ed. Why I Became a Psychotherapist.
Australasian Journal of Psychotherapy, Vol. 27, Nos 1-2.
‘Incest, War and Witness’, Life Writing, Vol 5, No 1, 2008
‘Religion, Sex and Psychoanalysis’, Psychotherapy in Australia, Vol. 14, No. 3, May 2008
‘Me, Myself and Eye: Narcissism and the “I” of Autobiography’, Australasian Journal of Psychotherapy, Vol. 26, No 2, 2007
‘The Limits of Intimacy’ reprinted in Voices: The Art and Science of Psychotherapy, Dimensions of Attunement
‘Shock Treatment’, Psychotherapy in Australia, Vol 12, No. 3, May 2006
‘Revenge in Life Writing’, Life Writing, Vol 3, No 1, 2006
‘Groupie’, Quadrant, No 429 (Vol L, No 9) September 2006
‘Do You Remember?’, Hidden Desires – Anthology of Women’s Writing. (Ed.) Christina Houen and Gina Woodhouse, Ginninderra Press, ACT, 2006
‘Fierce Amputations’, Island Magazine, No 106, Spring 2006
‘Full Circle’, Tirra Lirra, Vol 14, No 3
‘The Limits of Intimacy’, Meanjin, Vol 63, No 4, 2004
‘A strip of negatives’, Tirra Lirra, Spring/Summer 2003
‘Hold on’, Quadrant, January/February 2003
‘Blue shoes, black shoes’, Tirra Lirra, August 2002
‘Things happen’, Island, Summer 2002-2003
Varuna has been funded by the Australia Council to produce a Varuna Writer-a-Day “app”. When we have recorded 365 writers the app will be made available via the iTunes store. In the meantime, if you subscribe to this free blog, you can receive a daily reading delivered to your email inbox which can also be directed to your mobile phone. To find out more about Varuna’s programs, residencies, events and support services for writers click here.
If you would like to be part of Writer-a-Day submit your application via our online form.