Shady Cosgrove is the author of What the Ground Can’t Hold (Picador) and She Played Elvis (Allen and Unwin). Her short works have appeared in Best Australian Stories, Overland, Antipodes, Cordite, Southerly, Eunoia, takahe, and various Spineless Wonders anthologies. She teaches creative writing and editing at the University of Wollongong.

Body, not-body: a brain scan response in three case studies

In the video, he’s more handsome that I’m expecting. Receding hairline and an earnest jawline. Tender. Something about the angle of his face makes up for the cheap tie. He’s in a room with oversized white tiles and a locker – or maybe the edge of a water heater – just in frame. He’s not a small man. He’s mentioned this, his weight, but it feels irrelevant now. We aren’t even bodies, I tell myself. But his pants are around his ankles, and he’s holding his cock. He is words and images, processed through retina and brain, but when he looks at the camera, I am both seen and not-seen.


Mardi Gras weekend, Central Station. We’ve missed the last train to Wollongong and my girlfriend eyes the track, biting at her nails. I’m crouched down, staring at the brown tiles now – the colour offers both motion and safety. I stand up and toe-heel along the yellow line; the straps of my shoes cut into my ankles and my green leather skirt has twisted around. I’ve been drinking bottled water and high-crying most of the night, so much joy falling from my face I can’t catch it all. I’m fun-shouting at the vending machine now, trying to explain the post-structural subject to those apathetic snacks behind the glass, but maybe they’re right. Who needs a PhD? My girlfriend glances over, and it’s obvious I’m shouting: this, right here. This is it. She shrugs – but I’ve figured it out. The universe has cracked open.


The baby is asleep and even if he wakes up, I’ve jammed the headphones in as far as they’ll go. Noise cancelling. My feet are bare on the floorboards and the wood is solid, unconditional. It’s Aretha and Florence and Dolly. Respect and men and work. I could be anywhere, eyes closed, feet thumping. I’m jumping with the beat, arms overhead, hips shaking. A faint reflection follows me from the window. I’m exhausted but energy surges up my legs. A gift. I’m pulling off my shirt, breasts leaking through the hefty bra, but whatever. It’s a meditation and I’m bassline and voice and spirit

Covid Dreaming

Your message, the playlist: you’re breaking up with me. I saw a band tonight for the first time in over a year. Shoulder-to-shoulder – strangers bumping into each other, my hand brushes a woman’s waist. A colleague’s up there, standing in front of the stage: something’s changed since we were in the office, the slope of his shoulders, maybe. Lights cast yellow-orange as the saxophone radiates, the intoxicated fury of bodies near each other. We know what it means now, to be pack animals. We are waking up. The girls in the restroom, toilet door open. One asking the other: ‘Are your friends here? Can I call them?’ The smell of vomit as the drunk one’s walk-carried out, black denim skirt caught on her waist, g-string and butt-cheek exposed. It makes me think of date rape, which makes me think of that client and the suicide attempt and the email about the mental health ward. But I’m on the dancefloor and the beat moves through me, and there’s a voice that belongs to a singer who’s wearing a pale slip that hugs her beautiful, sturdy thighs. She holds the microphone up on that stage like it’s a triumph and I want her to keep singing as long as I’m alive, but the show ends and the lights come up – remorse – and that song by the Talking Heads comes on. You know the one. You’ve sent it to me, you posted it on your wife’s Facebook page when she found our messages.


Vinny’s your conscience and I’m your imagination. We climb over each other inside your brain, up the monkey bars, circling on the tire swing until we throw up. We’ve been drinking again and curfews are in place – but fuck that dog-world-cage. The takeaway shops across the road have been dead for months, and the petrol station’s locked up. They call this an apocalypse but I’m hoping that’s just spin for protesters who wanna raid supermarkets. Vinny says bricks are too heavy, and I agree – but maybe we’re complacent. We found someone’s stash buried in the cricket pitch – a case of wine, big hunks of cheese – and we’re working our way through another bottle of red. I’m giggling. Shh, Vinny says. He’s hanging off the slide, eyes caught on the horizon of your frontal lobe. He’s worried you’re going to find us, worried you and your police officer monkeys are going to kick us out. Yeah, probably, I shrug – but everyone knows you’re an arsehole and I’m the one you’ll come for first.

Brain coral

My wet-suit skin constricts until I tip back, off-boat. The splash of water and I’m mobile. I adjust my mask – whiff of brine, rubber – and this context turns me miraculous: I breathe underwater, both heavy and weightless in the echoed silence. Reefs stretch below. Fish and crustaceans dart through red-pink spines. Sponges and sea turtles current-drift through yellow. That growing ecosystem of creatures, dependent on each other – one tiny exo-skeleton at a time, growing on top of calcium carbonate ancestors. And yet, there are reef worlds, deeper than this. Consider Hawaii, the Twilight Zone. Drop down, beneath the postcard clear waters and there are still kaleidoscope fish in that near-complete darkness. Species that can retreat from acidic waters and bleaching might just survive at lower depths.

Perhaps our brains are reefs. Perhaps our survival too depends on dropping deeper – breathing into presence, below waves, into quiet.