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My coffee slid from my hands, slippery with sunscreen. I have this condition. I spill stuff | Brigid Delaney


Kids usually grow out of spills. Their hands become large enough to hold a cup, and strong enough that they’re able to eat dinner without half of it ending up on their shirts.

The spilling comes back again at the other end, when you’re elderly: a tremor in your hands, a weakening grip. Before you know it, someone’s chopping up your food for you, bringing you full circle.

But there are some of us who never get to enjoy the interval in between. We are the lifelong spillers, not to be trusted around red wine and white furniture, unable to wear light colours or carpet our houses. It sucks.

It’s like having a malevolent ghost limb, a third arm that swings wildly and nonconsensually, knocking stuff over. How did that happen? you ask yourself, as a new linen dress, now splattered with some sort of oil, becomes unwearable after its first outing. Or a smoothie winds up partially in your hair and partially on the ground.

Sometimes I spill stuff on others, sometimes on myself, or sometimes on the things that I love. Often, it’s on the things I need.

A couple of weeks ago I was tapping away on my trusty laptop (God it’s been through a lot) with 56 tabs open and three stories on the go. Halfway through filing a story I knocked over an enormous pitcher of water that drenched the keyboard. Most of the liquid just sort of washed over it. But some of it worryingly pooled around the G keys and J keys.

The computer didn’t break straight away – it just started messing with me real bad. An hour after the spill, the delete (or back) key turned into =, which meant that between=every=word=was=the=equal=key.

Then the return key started malfunctioning. Whenever I pressed it, the screen would dim slightly until it was completely dark and I was typing into a black screen. When I manually adjusted it (I was having to adjust it every five strokes of the return key), my story red=soemtng=lik=this.

Deadline was fast approaching. Continuing on this path was untenable. I wrote my copy longhand (which felt weird) and filed it over the phone to editors (also weird) who typed it into the system. (Only 15 years ago there were still copy takers at the Sydney Morning Herald but, alas, they went the way of the company drivers and the librarians.)

The third story I filed from a municipal library. It was a Vanity Fair commission, a little travel piece about the glamorous destinations travel writers are no longer getting to because … pandemic. No one was missing international travel more than me at this point – begging for computer time at a regional library, clacking tiles on a sticky keyboard, a big clock on the screen counting down the hour I had booked it.

I flew to Sydney and left my broken computer at the shop in Bondi. The technician sent me a text: “Checked your Macbook Air. Its keyboard was water damaged. Also the motherboard was damaged by some kind of juice.”

Some kind of juice? What kind? How could he tell it was juice? It could be Pepsi Max or perspiration or contact lens fluid. “Some kind of juice” has a vibe. It’s specific, but also vaguely accusatory. I felt seen.

I’m told it will cost $495 to fix.

I was still thinking about “some kind of juice” an hour later as I bought a paper at a newsagent. My hands were slippery from sunscreen. As I went to pay, the coffee I was holding slid from my hand. I caught it, then dropped it again, then caught it just in time before it exploded like a bad case of dysentery. Crisis averted. A glug of coffee escaped and spilled on some XXX Mints. They are a brand I have never purchased. They have Big Grandfather Energy. I wiped the coffee off them.

The shopkeeper was not convinced by my efforts. She removed the mints from the tray. Coffee had pooled underneath and was seeping through the mint packaging. It threatened to trickle down and destroy a nearby tray of Werther’s Originals. Somehow the coffee was everywhere. How? At this rate, I thought, we’ll go through an entire roll of paper towels. We found drops of coffee under the till. There were bits on the wall. It was soaking into the mints. In terms of volume, I barely spilt a thing – but it somehow distributed itself over a wide area.

The tension between me and the shopkeeper was rising. A friend waiting for me outside saw the exchange and thought I was (improbably) buying Lotto tickets and had picked a winner. She came in and went out again quickly – “the vibe was really bad”.

The shopkeeper made me buy the 11 packets of mints she deemed spoilt. “I can’t sell mints that smell like coffee,” she said. I wanted to tell her she doesn’t understand that I have this condition. I spill stuff. And how does she know she can’t sell mints that smell like coffee? This was her chance to give it a go.

All week now the mints have had a generative quality. I’m giving packets of them away every time I meet someone – but I still seem to be surrounded by rolls of mints. They’re at the bottom of my handbag when I’m searching for my keys, they’re rolling off the kitchen bench and cluttering up my desk. They’re lurking at the bottom of my gym bag and are stuffed in various pockets of my luggage. Could it be that they’ll be with me forever? A visual reminder of my ghost limb?



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