By Doug Jacquier
When Garth walked out, Kirsty had no idea what to do next. She’d left school early to marry him. And then she lost the baby. Garth continued to pay the mortgage because they couldn’t afford to sell. Not yet.
She had no real work skills. She got by on casual cleaning jobs and welfare. It turned out that most of ‘their friends’ in the far flung suburban outskirts they’d moved to were Garth’s friends and workmates. A few of Kirsty’s friends had come to visit at first but they soon made it clear that it was a major expedition for them and they did not return. Kirsty couldn’t afford to move back to her old neighborhood. Now she only had Facebook Friends.
She’d had to sell the car and the public transport that did exist was more of a sick joke than a service. The one saving grace was that she could walk to a shopping centre that had a supermarket. It also had a medical clinic. More and more often, the shopping bags she carried to the centre were a disguise for her visits to the doctor. Unable to find anything physically wrong with her, the doctor finally prescribed tablets, to ease what he assumed was her depression about Garth leaving. And losing the baby.
Kirsty took the tablets. She returned a few times to get the dosage increased, until the doctor refused to prescribe anything stronger. Kirsty eventually worked out the real problem. She was lonely, plain and simple.
Through her Facebook Friends, she knew about internet dating but she didn’t want another man that might leave her one day. She was too timid to join in any local activities and never made eye contact with her neighbors. And, besides, she felt constantly unwell. When she shared that on Facebook, no-one took much notice and many of her Friends disappeared.
Then she posted that her doctor feared it might be stomach cancer and was sending her for tests. Suddenly all her Facebook Friends re-appeared, with lots of love heart emojis and hopes for the best and promises to come and see her soon.
No-one visited, so next time she posted she said the tests had confirmed the diagnosis. The doctors would try chemotherapy first but ultimately she would probably need surgery.
Garth rang and left messages but she refused to see him. She knew that one look into her eyes would tell him the truth.
For a couple of weeks there was a constant stream of visitors bringing her lots of gentle-to-the- stomach foods and referrals to simply amazing natural therapists and healers who had achieved miracle cures. She also received lots of information about fabulous scarves and wigs.
The next day, she opened the door to an immaculately groomed woman with deep green eyes and an expensive haircut that merged her early grey into blonde. ‘I’m Gina. I’m a healer’ she said, with the deep throatiness of an ex-smoker. ‘One of your friends sent me.’
Kirsty invited her in and, after a few minutes chatting, Gina held Kirsty’s eyes and said ‘I know you’re faking.’
Kirsty’s whole story tumbled out and, at the end, she wailed ‘What am I going to do?’
‘You’re going to keep doing what you’ve been doing, only better, until you’ve got enough money to disappear and start again.’
Kirsty said ‘I’m sorry, I don’t understand.’
Gina fixed her gaze on Kirsty. ‘If you confess now, you’ll be a pariah and there’ll be no coming back. Is that what you want?’
‘No, of course not but ..’
‘If you trust me, we’ll find a way. But you have to trust me and do what I say.’
Kirsty’s shoulders slumped and she nodded.
Over the following weeks, Gina took over all of Kirsty’s social media. Through a friend of Gina’s who worked on a hospital soap, pictures emerged of Kirsty in a hospital bed, clearly distressed and with lots of tubes and monitors attached, grimacing a brave smile.
Gina strung out the wait for the test results, until posting that the surgery had failed and the cancer had now spread to Kirsty’s lymph glands. Chemotherapy and radiation were her only hope. The next posts showed Kirsty bald and pale, courtesy of Gina’s clippers and make-up.
Obviously all of these treatments were expensive and the health system didn’t cover all of the costs, so Gina, as Kirsty’s closest and dearest friend, set up a HelpKirstyLive account for her. All of the funds were channeled to a new joint bank account, with Gina and Kirsty as co-signatories, one that Gina would manage on Kirsty’s behalf.
Kirsty’s Facebook Friends donated generously rather than come to visit this grotesque caricature of the old Kirsty. A few tried but were told Kirsty was far too unwell to face visitors just now.
Soon there was $20,000 in the HelpKirstyLive account and Kirsty wanted to end it there, with a miracle remission. But Gina said, ‘Sweetheart, we’ve just begun.’
The news about the chemotherapy and radiation treatment was all bad and it now seemed the only hope was an experimental treatment available in the US, one whose early results had been spectacular. The problem was it was horrendously expensive and way beyond anything Kirsty could afford.
Gina began by hitting the cancer support groups in Australia but she knew the big bucks were in the US and that’s where she focused her energy. She built a narrative around an outback farmer’s wife who’d lost her husband to a tragic accident and was doing her best to support her three young children (never shown, to protect their privacy) and keep the farm going, despite everything, to ensure their future. The Today Show bought the story and 60 Minutes took some of the action. The HelpKirstyLive target of $100,000 was met ten times over and kept going.
Kirsty looked at the numbers in disbelief as they grew exponentially and for once her and Gina agreed it was time to pull the plug. It was only a matter of days before someone found out there was no cancer diagnosis, no treatment, no farm, no family, and no miracle cure from a non-existent medical facility.
Kirsty signed a bewildering array of forms that Gina put in front of her and then they hugged long and hard. ‘See you in the Bahamas. First rum and Coke’s on me’ laughed Gina, as she handed Kirsty her new passport and new credit cards.
At the airport, everything unraveled. The passport and credit cards were bogus. There was no trace of anyone called Gina and their joint account had been emptied.
After the trial, Kirsty went to prison. She was spat on by her fellow inmates and threatened at every turn. Until she had a visitor.
At the appointed time, she was escorted to the cold and comfortless visitor centre. The prison officer nodded towards a table. Sitting there was a bottle blonde in her 50’s, with pillow lips and a permanently startled expression.
Kirsty sat, desperately trying to remember whether she knew this woman or not.
‘Hi, Kirsty. I’m Jo. You don’t know me but I’m here to help.’
Kirsty’s immediate thought was that this was someone who’d come to save her soul and began to push her chair back.
‘Wait, Kirsty. My plan is to get you out of here and to set you up for life.’
With a sigh, Kirsty began to stand.
‘What Gina did to you was despicable. At every level. At least hear me out.’
Having nothing better to do, Kirsty shrugged, pulled her chair in and waited.
Jo seemed to relax and made a reflex move to reach for her cigarettes, before realizing those days were gone in places like this.
‘OK, here’s what I’m offering. I’m going to ghost write your autobiography. We’re going to show that you have been a victim all your life. We’re going to build the case that you did what you did out of desperation, brought on by depression, and that Gina manipulated you for her own personal gain’.
Kirsty interrupted. ‘You said you were going to get me out of here.’
‘I will, said Jo. I have a lawyer who is prepared to take your case for an appeal, on the basis of diminished responsibility, and he thinks he can get you a suspended sentence. You’ll be out of here and able to make a fresh start on the royalties. And then there’s the movie rights, the TV spin-off and the cancer support foundation you’ll set up. We’re even thinking of a Kirsty Kuddle doll for Kids with Kancer. What do you think?’
Kirsty’s shoulders slumped and she nodded.
‘Great’ said Jo, flashing her immaculately capped teeth. ‘Oh, and by the way, you won’t have any more trouble from the bitches in here.’
Jo stood, gave Kirsty a quick hug and was gone.
Later, in the dining room, an inmate sat down opposite her for the first time. She was tall and sported full sleeve tattoos and a permanent scowl. She said ‘I’m your protection. But I’ll still have to rough you up a bit when the circus kicks off and the GetKirstyOut campaign starts.’
* * *
Doug Jacquier is an Australian flash fiction and short story writer and poet, an avid cook, a vegetable gardener and an incurable punster, as well as an occasional stand-up comedian. He’s had over 30 jobs (including rock band roadie) and has lived in many places across Australia, including regional and remote communities. Doug has travelled extensively, especially in Asia, the US and UK in his former role as a not-for-profit CEO. His aim is to surprise, challenge and amuse.