There’s part of a dead cat rotting in the corner. Nobody wants to talk about it. An off-brand noir loops its whodunnits weakly on a modest LCD TV. Everybody stares and stays the same. The natural cycle of entropic tropes thins the plot. The air is derelict and the grounds are green but wasted by weedy creepers. There’s no wildlife bar the tomcat, an alley male bastard that flickers at the edges, Schrödinger’s yin to the rancid yang growing rigid in obscurity. Nothing always changes predictably. Something is born, something is dead, between them is everything’s eventual horizon.
Standing there, back to the wall, drawing slowly on a cigarette, watching her laugh. Watching her, sat there with that stranger. Nicotine and cut grass molecules intertwine like entropic time. The stranger leaning easily against her, arm around frame, around dame. Dropping cigarette on concrete, pressing boot into cherry, approaching the bench. Recognition paints a colour, she smiles to introduce a stranger. ‘I’m Jack,’ he’s saying. Shaking hands with continuities trembling. Forgetting what was and knowing what’s next. ‘Old friends,’ she’s saying, writing new histories, drawing shares in the same empty frame. Walking away, everything confusing comes into relief.
Watching Dana and James make out, trying not to look or look like I’m not. The ice has made everything hyperreal and distinctly absent. I have the sensation that I’m hovering inside myself, separated by a buffer of nothing that feels like falling. Air in a vacuum.
I miss her tongue already.
Five minutes ago she has me up against the bathroom sink, her fingers slinking beneath my skirt. Her lips upon my neck, heavy petting, hot and breathy, saying, I have to have you. Panting and pawing, frenetic, messy, passion riddled moments, melding together as she moves against me, thigh parting mine, stirring my insides, jarring me alive. I shudder and lose track of time.
Somebody turns the music up and I feel myself bump against the world. ‘Is it just me or is it crowded in here?’ Nobody listens. I need to move or I’ll die, so I finish my wine. The kitchen seems so far, but it’s fine once I force my feet to work and persuade my head to stay on straight. I’m walking when somebody stops me.
‘Hey, do I know you?’
Slouched against a wall, slumped though comfortably so, Dylan, slur-smiled and easily unaware. Golden trellis hair laid in disheveled crown of thorns, framing drugged eyes that I can’t meet. ‘Not really.’
‘Nah, not so. You’re Sally’s sister, no?’
Two years ago, hiding at a seek party, wanting not to be sought but resenting the thought. Stuck in a closet, drinking to drown, swallowed by darkness. Though I can’t see a thing, I can feel the music through the floor. It moves through me like the vibrations of a muffled drum, insidious and rhythmic, frustrating itself in the stillness of my body.
‘I can’t believe I found you.’
I want anything other than this. Pressure pawing over me. Calloused hands screaming for satiation across my skin, twin freewheeling pinions. I can’t move. My mind collects my senses and projects them behind closed eyes, a vivid and ferocious, transcendental conglomerate of horrors. I wish them gone or me away. Within and without, stripped apart and reassembled against my will. I try not to think, to breathe, to survive. I hope for nothing and lose track of time.
Sitting in the shower basin, drenched and empty, salt running from her skin. Standing there, prune skinned and withered in the steaming air, looking for myself in the mirror’s fog, thinking I can’t cry again. Her words, dampened in the water’s patter, reach me muffled, out of sync, hovering in the heat.
‘Where did you go?’
Dana, standing by me with a hand on my shoulder. Mascara, run since I last saw her, darkening her eyes. Her smile still shines, lightened in relief. Pulled to her, embracing, the pulse in her neck a timpani thump I feel in my heart. I am stretched taut around her.
‘Even when I’m not here, I’m there.’
One day soon she drives us to the beach, rattling there in that old Volvo beater, listening to a scratched copy of Garbage she swears is stuck, an auditory witness to her supposed ignorance as she sings every word. Only she enjoys pretending she isn’t enjoying herself. We throw our towels down on the sand and face up to the sun, our arms outstretched and our fingers just not touching. Sedated by the crushing softness of the waves falling upon the shore with meditative persistence. When she smiles it’s genuine and I take it for my own. Nobody will ever see it again.
A little too early, nobody here and nothing to do. I pour myself a wine and wander through the house, finding James in the lounge room living up to its name, draped upon a weathered chaise and staring down the ceiling. He looks so serene, I want to disturb him. ‘Dana isn’t far away,’ he says. Neither of us does anything.
Somebody hands me something and says, ‘you’ll be fine.’ I smoke a pipe and lose track of time.
When I get up she’s playing Xbox in her underwear. Sitting on the couch and distracted, an empty mug wedged into the hollow cross of her legs. Coffee, she says, trying to make it sound like an offer, not looking up from the screen. I can hear the buttons clicking while she doesn’t look at me. I pace around behind her while I wait for the kettle. Window to bench, bench to couch, couch to table, table to window. Checking into the corners with measured steps. I walk over and ease the mug from her lap.
‘What do you want to do today?’ she asks the screen.
The kettle screams.
I don’t know, I say, whatever you’re into.
Something scratches at the back of my mind, some fragmented dream wanting to come back into consciousness. I try not to think while I fix our coffees, letting a little bit of Zen seep in with the sugar and instant granules. There’s too much immediacy and the dream nags.
‘It’s nice out,’ she says.
Pieces of dreams float in and out, thoughtless nothings that fail to catch. I walk over and put the mug down in front of her and she reaches out, wrapping her hand around my forearm. Her fingers are cold and I find myself looking at the shadows of the room as though they hid an explanation.
‘I love you,’ she says, and I lean down into her kiss.
In my dream I say, I love you, and then lose some small McGuffin. I spend my life searching, asking familiar strangers for directions to places I’ve already been. Go on, they say in idle tones, and I walk on until I wake, scattering hopes around me like sand thrown at the wind.
I heard its going to rain, I say, and walk out onto the balcony.
I totally wasn’t going to go home with him. When he sat down I thought he was one of those boys with more ego than equipment, a big bow on a little package, you know. Cleo was doing her usual Claude Rains impression, so I let him stay and talk to me, figuring I’d rather be alone with company than altogether lonely. It was fun for a bit, letting him Quixote my windmill.
It’s easier to ignore a noise than succumb to a silence. After he steamed out I noticed something sad in him that sang to the sick in me. It was the eyes, like a deep green lagoon, hidden and still, that you just want to throw rocks into. I’ve got a weakness for the wounded and weird, in a totally selfish way (fuck Flo Nightingale). It probably makes me messed up but people’s twisted shit makes my brain hard. I just want to wrap myself up in it and see how long it takes to suffocate, like drowning in one of those blanket shawls they sell across the late night TV wasteland.
So, after a few chivalry inspired cocktails I told him he could take me home.
He held my hand on the cab ride over and didn’t even try to make out with me, which was sweetly depressing, not knowing if it was nerves or patience. His place was one of those apartments grown in the remains of a plantation mansion that the invisible rich carve into single servings for multiple rents. It would have made a swell bordello before it got dissected and had its nooks stuffed with bachelor types, imported students and low income independents. Still, it had a rusted out opulence that was sexy in a decayed sort of way.
We had to go right to the back and up an infinity of stairs to get into his unit. The door was cut into the guts of a built-in wardrobe, it was like walking into Narnia if it had been written by Kerouac, with an eerie Spartan starkness to it that made me feel exposed, as though I had skinned his personality and was looking the intimate muscles of his life. There was kind of nothing there. The whole thing would have screamed serial killer if it wasn’t for the books. They were mounded everywhere, tucked up in corners and piled along the walls, stacks of them higher than my head and neatly disordered enough that it took the sting out of the Dahmer decor.
I lapped the room looking for something like peace of mind amidst the indecent Dewey Decimal wallpaper, a thirty second prowl that only left me restless. It’s hard to get comfortable without any comforts and I wasn’t sure what to do, which was new for me. I gave in and sat on the bed, it wasn’t a big step. I guess that’s the joy of studio living, the sections of your life aren’t even far enough apart to be considered walking distance.
Fiddling with a laptop upon a plinth of yet more books, he asks me over his shoulder if I’d like another drink. Sure, I say, as The XX start to play, and he tells me he’s got scotch or water. I take the malted option without sighing and ask to have it iced. Plumping myself into his pillows, I build a little fort away from my hesitations and watch him mine the ice from the kind of snack size fridge they stock in hotel rooms. The drink comes to me in an old jar and he shrugs without apologizing, telling me he doesn’t really entertain. It’s not much of an explanation, but the scotch was smooth and made excuses for him.
-through the wrong end of a kaleidoscope. One of the Davids hits me again and then I’m on the ground, a weight on my chest so heavy that it feels like my ribs are being pushed through the concrete into the hard-packed soil beneath. Fifteen grand, he’s saying, fifteen grand. Over and over until the words have no meaning.
‘I don’t have it,’I say.
Laura looking at me from the kitchen of our shitbox redbrick apartment. Oil fire eyes summarizing years of disappointment. Her long dark hair hanging about her face in lanky clots. Mascara streaks and unwashed dishes. Somewhere else a baby cries, uncared for. Laura’s crooked smile, a smothering.
‘I can get it for you,’ I say.
Floating ribs sunk into organs. Something creaks and brittle parts are being stressed. The Davids coalesce above me. One man, larger than possible, viewed at this treacherous angle. Baring lupine teeth, he snarls, I want what’s mine. Angry perspiration planing down his face, opalescent beads caught under fluorescents. I can almost hear them sizzle as they drop onto my skin. I want what’s mine, he says again.
‘I need more time,’ I whimper.
The crying stops and Laura barely rocks, like leaves anticipate the wind. Her lightly shaking head and a sighing in the silence soughing through the house. I don’t know how much longer, she falters. I move to her for comfort. My hands have only ever hurt when held in other places. Amateur dancers, they only know the rhythms of her skin. We stay like this for hours as the minutes fade away. I listen to the pleading as her words vibrate upon my cheek. I need. I need. I need.
‘Ok,’ I whisper.
Two days, he barks.
Today, she pleads.
The place gives me that favourite coat feeling. It’s really just the old Indie Temple with a new name on the door. It still wears the same worn in, tarnished glamour of a faded starlet, everything all soft and furtive under Vaseline lights and the kindness of strangers, except that nobody gives a fuck now, in that disaffectedly nonchalant way. I can’t help loving it.
Thursday is ladies’ night. I’m not sure it means what they think it means. The dick ratio is out of control and there’s sweaty clots of guys all over the place, pawing the room with predator eyes and restless libidos, better dressed Hyenas with bad hygiene and less social grace. We get stalked a lot, Cleo stinks like red meat.
I move towards the bar, wading through pools of faux-retro faces, ironic mustaches, and forwardly familiar hands, working up an angry sort of thirst on my way. The bar is dressed as a cinema concession booth and makes me think of buttered popcorn. I order a couple of long islands from the disheveled somnambulant lurking behind it. He doesn’t say anything, just mixes the drinks with a docile flair and slaps them down in front of me. I match them with a ten, knowing it won’t be enough. He calls me on it with a look of implacable boredom and I up the ante with my cleavage and a smile. The guy just shrugs, slipping the note into his pocket, and shuffles off.
I turn around and stare at Cleo’s predictable absence. She probably found something interesting to put inside her, so I find somewhere to sit and practice not giving a shit. The far wall is littered with tables, little circular affairs like you get at wedding receptions and kindergartens, I wade over there holding the cocktails out in front of me like Helsing brandishing a cross, splitting the throng open with the power of a cocktail’s personal space. I sit with my back to the wall, next door to a copse of roller derby types, thickset flannel wearers staring at me like I’ve never heard of steak. I’ve fucking heard of steak, they’re just sour because I don’t eat fish.
I decide to give Cleo until the bottom of the glass before I get pissed off, then half my drink goes down without hitting the sides and I don’t really care. I keep scanning the room looking for familiar faces to avoid. One of the bodies detaches itself from the throng and walks over, becoming something like a man only younger, scuffed and bright, standing at the fringe of my table.
‘Do you have a lighter?’ He says and I tell him I do and don’t do anything. He looks down at me, grinning with canine innocence, green eyes and no guile. I finish a third of Cleo’s cocktail before he sits down.
‘What else you got?’ He says, eager and comfortable.
Caleb, who is a complete fucking scumbag, is giving a lecture on the moralities of Batman. I’d probably have that conversation if it could be one. Every time he thinks he’s about to make a point he swishes up his drink (a fucking whiskey lemonade which he might as well pour straight into his vagina) and throws a swallow down like a magician takes a bow. Everyone at the table clearly thinks he’s great except for Cleo who I can always rely on to be bored, that bitch is like the Galileo of apathy and sometimes I’m just so fucking grateful.
‘What people don’t understand,’ Caleb says, swish, swallow and smug, ‘is that Batman only has one rule he never breaks. His moral compass only points in one direction but he’ll take any road he can to get there.’
I’d break that rule over Caleb’s handsome fucking head if I knew I could get away with it.
Cleo sighs over the brim of her martini (three olives, dry, and a nod to bygone times) and says to no-one, ‘Comics are for kids.’ The dickhead stops mid-monologue and sharpens his eyes on Cleo’s face. They slept together once, in what I can only imagine was a fit of drug filled boredom, and it always makes me laugh. I know what Cleo likes and I know she wouldn’t have taken it easy on him. There’s probably a few scars cowering under that firsthand vintage jacket he’s affecting. I watch her screw up a napkin and lob it into Caleb’s glare, smacking him in the smug and shutting him right up. She could have been an athlete if she didn’t believe sweat was a byproduct of sex.
The table laughs it off while he sulks and everyone falls back into a rhythm of pointlessness. I love the spectacle of a gathering, the cadence of conversation as it rises, falls and swells around a room. I love watching people think they’re not just animate meat, their little bubbles of hope and expectation that stew around the surface of this twisted social broth. I love playing whodunnit (or will do it), I’m like the Miss Marple of hookups, only mildly less celibate.
I’ve been watching Dylan (ugh) and Sammy’s chairs edging towards each other all night, slow-burn seismic shit the way tectonic plates slide in for a quake. I hope she likes the taste of salt and disappointment. The way she giggles I doubt that she minds anything so long as it’s said with Pavlovian intent. I can practically see her salivating as he rings her little bell.
I feel my phone vibrate and I pull out one of Cleo’s texts. Fuck this shit, it says. Happy hour. Lowered bar. Coke and cocktails. I hate how much I love this girl. I throw back my daiquiri, all slush and good intentions now, and excuse myself nodding towards the little girl’s. Smoke bomb, I text her back. Don’t be long.
Secretary says she hates me. I don’t buy it. I lean against the edge of my desk and fold my arms, watching as she minces towards me, her neat little steps swinging heel toe heedlessly through the minefield of papers and notes and carbon effluvium entrenched on my office floor. Planting one modest plum coloured heel against the nearest column of detritus, she snipes me a look of apathetic resentment. Her skirt rides up on the swell of her thigh and my skin prickles with the sweet hot shame of desire and the thought of vanilla ice-cream melting on pancakes.
‘You’re twelve o’clock is here,’ she says.
When I tell her I don’t have any appointments she sights me down the barrel of her nose and chambers another citric glare, the room steeped in that venomous brand of silence only a woman can excrete. I’m sure I don’t remember but I shrug acceptingly. Secretary sighs and flicks her heel out, toppling the papers underneath and sending a domino cascading through the room. She spins around with a reckless elegance and sails back the way she came.
‘Buy a calendar,’ she says and pours herself through the door.
There’s barely time to catch my breath before Twelve strides in and takes it back. She carries the scent of camphor and herself like velvet, in a dress so honest that I’m not sure where to look. I salvage a chair from the debris and motion for her to sit down. Retreating behind my desk, I reach for the bottle of oak aged fortification I never bother to put in the top drawer. She watches me with a still, hawkish candor while I evict a family of wasted pens from a tumbler and clean it with the backside of my tie. For some reason I want this to bother her. I pour myself three middle fingers and practice looking at her face.
Sometimes I can hear Secretary scrabbling for information in the other room. We don’t talk about it and normally I don’t care what turns the girl’s key, she keeps quiet and it makes me think she cares, but her silence behind the door while I’m in front of Twelve gives me a dry, cheese grater pang of cheaters guilt. I want to take off my skin and wash it.
Twelve breaks my mood with a voice that’s somehow wide and warmer than I’d expected, gravelly eclectic like rain falling on limestone. ‘I love the decor,’ she says, not looking around. ‘How do you find anything?’
I tell her I use hard work and diligence and she makes a little humming sound like a stovetop element warming up. Maybe she would have preferred luck. I watch as she slides her fingers into her tiny pink clutch, probing for her desire, amazed that she can fit anything in there. I don’t ask if she would like a hand. She comes up with a menthol Kool and slides it between her lips.
‘Can you light me up?’
I dig a box of Redheads from my tool drawer and toss them over. There’s a reckless elegance to her movements as she catches the matches, the liquid rhythm of a wave riding its surfer. I’d prefer to watch.
‘They told me you’re the best.’
I’ve never met them but I know the type. It could be true but it’s probably all lies and accusations. I stare into her silence, sipping rum from my tumbler and listing the names of sins in my head. I’ve always liked sloth but I never get time for it, I’m always too busy avoiding other things, like people who might feel the need to talk about me with dangerously attractive women, or tigers, which seems easy but requires the same level of vigilance.
‘Most of it was better than worse,’ she says finally, using my floor as an ashtray.
That’s still no reason to believe it.
I fucked Dylan last night. I know, right? I totally shouldn’t have, then three Long Island’s and a tab of what the guy told me was LSD but was really more like MDMA (or whatever, something just as cruisey), and I’m thinking fuck it, I don’t have to suck his personality. Sometimes you just want a guy to hold you down and press all his manly shit against you while you writhe around beneath him shouting the names of Jane Austen protagonists at the ceiling. Really though, it was a mistake, even if it was suspiciously good.
I don’t like sleeping in foreign beds or talking to my sex toys, so I wake up while Dylan is still dreaming about beer tastings and MMA fights or whatever homoerotic shit guys like him dream about. I try to leave and get half way free before I notice my right hand is still cuffed to the bed head, which is something I don’t remember being involved in last night but is totally a thing. Most midrange love cuffs have a quick release switch on the side of them (which always blows me away. If you’re going to put yourself out there, fucking commit to it). After a minute of fuzzy, incompetent pawing, that makes me picture something out of Jigsaw’s spring break, I get my hand emancipated and slither upright.
Of course that’s when he wakes up, as I’m standing there, inconsolably naked, wondering which part of his adolescent pit has swallowed my clothes. His face is wrapped around this prissy, lion’s pride grin, as if I’m some endangered animal he just brought down. I push my hair back on my head, hoping it stays there (it’s the only hair left on my body and it fights me so hard I wonder why I keep it), and glare at him with indentured defiance. I ask him if he’s seen my shit and he laughs so softly I have to strain myself not to kill him.
Eventually I find my clothes and slink away. I had to leave my dignity behind, though honestly I can live without it. Dignity is just something people drape over you for not spilling drinks down your dress, making out with bass players or vomiting out of cab windows, and you can still be plenty indignant without it. What I can’t live with (or don’t want to) is knowing that everybody is going to find out I let Dylan stick it to me. Social networks and strangers with drugs, I always get burnt by the things that I love.
I’m bored of being pretty. I tell Cleo I’m going to start a girl fight club. She smiles at me over her vodka cranberry, (sourdough bitch), and tells me I’m not supposed to talk about it. I can see the ovation in her eyes. I want to scrape the smugness off her with the painter’s trowel she used to put on all that makeup. You should try exfoliating, I tell her, if you want to get rid of that snaky complexion. She’s already not paying attention, her face buried in the fluorescence of her phone.
Mother superior of a digital mass, Cleo needs to check on her parishioners every few minutes in case their devotion starts to wane. I tell her if she checks me in I’ll eat her first born child. She laughs by pushing air out of her nose and tells me I’ll have to ask the clinic if they still have it. I ask Cleo if she ever gets bored of being apathetic and she shrugs out her response. My phone vibrates in my pocket but I leave it where it is. I’m not hungry enough to follow through on my threats.
Jessie and Dylan show up dressed like yacht club DJ’s, sock-less feet in seasonal shoes, rolled up khaki’s and V-neck cotton affectations. Cleo turns each cheek to receive their thin lipped tributes. I listen to them tweeting their intentions at her in sentences without character. They chart the night out for us by way of invitation. Seismic Collapse are playing a secret set, they say, in a warehouse in West End. Dylan winks at me through his bangs and asks, would I like to come? I can feel my vagina drying up like a salted slug. From underneath the table I text Cleo, no, with seven exclamations. I hope she’ll get the message, but telling Cleo what you don’t want is like chumming in the ocean.
Ugh, I had coffee with Jamie today. She’s such a bitch (you know it’s true, Jamie). We went to that Flamingo place in the Valley that takes too long to give you your shit. I kind of hate it there because everybody is either beautiful or oppressively different but it’s kind of cool in an uncomfortable secondhand way. Everybody’s big into that at the moment, which I really hate. I overheard somebody say that apathy is coming back. They could have meant a band.
Jamie told me she was thinking about breaking up with Dylan and I told her I thought he was cool, but if she isn’t into it then just fucking do it. (You have to now, bitch). Anyway, I think they’d be better people without each other. I listened to her shoot holes in her relationship with small calibre bullet point frustrations for fully half an hour. As far as I knew the barista was still out the back growing my fucking mocha beans.
Everybody’s either breaking up or getting pregnant at the moment. I feel like this should make me feel something but it doesn’t, not what I think it should. My ex keeps texting that he’s been dreaming about me lately. It means he’s single again. I don’t go back though. It never works out because it didn’t work out. Also, The last time I saw him he’d gotten kind of fat.
My friend Sharon keeps telling me to watch that movie Feed. It’s about guys who get off by feeding chicks until they become fucked up obese. Like, some of these chicks can’t even move and I think maybe some of them die and maybe there’s some weird sex kink in that too. How do people switch off that voice in your head that says you look like shit? I can’t eat a thing once I’ve got the taste of guilt in my mouth.
It was raining halfheartedly and Julie stood there feeling appropriately soggy. The body of her husband inert and unreachable under the ground at her feet, while the constant drizzle turned the freshly filled plot into sludge. It was a miserable day, cold, damp, uncomfortable and seemed about right to Julie. It feels like its been raining all my life, she thought, why should it be any different now that he’s dead?
There was a hand on her shoulder.
‘Mrs. Jenkins?’ the hand said.
‘If you’ve come to say you’re sorry then don’t. I’m not sorry and I don’t care if you are.’ She turned to face the hand. There was a handsome looking man attached to it. She looked at him through tired eyes. ‘I thought you were someone else.’
‘That’s quite all right, Mrs. Jenkins,’ the man said, offering his hand.
It had been an exhausting week, arranging the burial of her husband. Julie never understood before how much work it took disposing of the dead. Her husband’s complicated life had extended itself into the grave, leaving her alone with two kids, streams of paperwork, a slew of family and friends and their unrelenting condolences. She found it hard to raise the energy for formality.
‘People just call me JJ,’
The man smiled delicately, with only the corners of his mouth. He was somewhere in his late thirties judging by the slight wrinkles around his eyes. There was a certain lonely look to him, but his voice was soft and kind as it tried on her name.
‘JJ, then. Please, call me Hemingway,’
Julie took the man’s hand and shook it briefly. ‘You knew my husband?’
‘Yes, in a way. Though I only met him twice. I worked for him in a small capacity for a good many years.’
Julie turned back to look at the muddied plot. ‘He never mentioned you.’
‘I can’t imagine he would have.’
The truth was that Carter had never talked to Julie about anything. He was as much of a mystery now as he had been in the beginning. She had loved that at first, there was something so reassuring about a man who acted without need for conversation or deliberation. Carter was a stone wall that she had built her life around.
Julie sighed over her dead husband. ‘It’s too late for him to say anything now.’
‘I’m sorry, JJ.’
‘So am I, but not for him.’
They stood together in the hush and patter of rain, coming to terms with their own thoughts. Hemingway spoke first, his voice, softened in the falling water. ‘JJ, there’s something I have to tell you that may not want to hear.’
Julie spun sharply and stumbled, her heel sinking into the damp soil. As she fell forward Hemingway stepped in, bracing her by the elbows. He steadied her on her feet, smiling apologetically as though for his own clumsiness. She looked at the man with a mixture of embarrassment and anger, silently daring him to speak.
Hemingway stuffed his hands into the pockets of his coat and let his eyes drop. ‘I need to tell you about the work I did for your husband.’
It was getting cold and Julie was soaked through. She ran a hand through her hair, leaving tracks in the wet blonde mess. It was done for now and so was she, he was in the ground. All she wanted now was to shower and sleep. She didn’t want to do this today but the man in front of her meant to say his piece. Better to get it over with.
‘If you want to tell me why you killed him,’ she said, ‘then I think we should go somewhere dry.’
She moves so softly I don’t know she’s there until she slips her hand into mine. ‘Come on,’ she says, and leads me towards the cab rank. I let myself go with her. I don’t want to be alone and I don’t want to be around people. There’s something empty about her that makes this feel like getting both. It’s wrong, but it’s easy.
In the back of the cab she takes my hand again. She’s telling me about her night and all her friend’s problems. I listen dutifully, detached. The way she talks about them I can tell she thinks we’re perfect. It feels like her hand is getting tighter the longer she talks, like cranking a vice. There’s no air in the cab. I wind down the window and press my face into the breeze.
Of course we sleep together, but I can’t switch off. I don’t feel anything, my thoughts override my senses. Afterwards she slides across the gap between us and lays her head against my chest. ‘How long have we been doing this?’ She asks.
Fucking? I say.
She slaps my thigh playfully. ‘I mean all of this.’
I’ve been doing this my whole life, but I know that’s not what she means, so I grunt. She goes quiet. I can hear her breathing in and out in a sharp little staccato that punctures the silence around us.
I tell her I know, trying to stop her saying what she wants to.
She lifts her head up, startled, and raises an inquisitive eyebrow at me. ‘How do you know what I want to say, huh?’
I tell her that she’s most transparent person I know, that I can read it on her.
She throws her head back down on my chest with a little huff. ‘Well, I want to say it,’ she says. ‘I need-’
I tell her she doesn’t.
I push her away and slide to the edge of the bed. She looks so small, when I look back at her, lying crumpled in the sheets, wearing only a look of sad resilience. She catches my eye snorts defiantly. ‘I don’t care. I love you and I want to say it.’
I tell her she shouldn’t be in love with me, that it was never what I wanted. I don’t realize I’m shouting until I see the look on her face. She’s fragile, but somehow I’m the one who starts crying.
I shouldn’t, but I stay the night. I have strange dreams.
When the morning light pries my eyes open I try to sneak out, but she stirs as I’m halfway through the door.
‘I want to talk about this,’ she whispers.
I know you do, I say, closing the door.
Ambrose lay outside the door, waiting quietly to be let in. He had no idea how long had he been there but it felt like forever. It was so cold outside. The rain was strumming its first few chords against the chill pavement while the wind blew its vicious beats against the windows of the house. There was something coming for him, he could sense it. It made his shoulders tense and the hair on the back of his neck stand up. A lifetime of instinct told him to flee, to hide, to get as far away as possible before it found him. I should run he thought. Something made him stay.
This is a safe place Ambrose thought, I’ll be safe inside. He looked around him at the familiar surroundings. The deck and the banister of the old Queenslander home, the faded couch he’d spent so many summer afternoons on, passing the time in the sun. It all looked so foreign in the dark. He snorted defiantly and tucked his head against his chest.
A flash of lighting over the horizon made him shiver. It wouldn’t be safe out here much longer. He had to get inside. Ambrose knocked gently against the door. Nothing was stirring on the other side. The house was silent. Whimpering softly Ambrose lowered his head again and closed his eyes. It was useless, he wasn’t coming. Ambrose had spent his whole life with the man inside and now here he was, alone in the dark.
Thunder boomed in the distance and Ambrose let loose another whimper. He had to try again, he couldn’t give up now. He rapped again at the door, his limbs shaking with fear and urgency. Desperately, he scratched at the door, forcing himself against it with all his strength. He was almost screaming now, a hopeless howl torn loose from his throat and lost to the wind. The door stood strong against his attack as the thunder clapped mockingly at his efforts. His body shook and his throat ran hoarse with his guttural shouts.
From the depths of the house a light flickered into life. Ambrose ceased his assault and listened hopefully to the soft patter of feet approaching the door. Despite his fear Ambrose could feel a lightness enter him. This was it, any moment now and he would be safe.
Andrew was dreaming of the ocean when the noise woke him. All that banging and bustle on the porch, it had to be Ambrose. He pulled a loose cotton robe around his shoulders and started towards the front door.
‘Every time,’ Andrew muttered to himself. ‘It’s just a damned storm, Brosie. Nothing to be scared of.’ He pushed open the door and looked down at the silhouette of his dog huddled on the porch. ‘Come on, get inside you big wuss,’ he said.
Ambrose unfolded himself slowly from the ground and looked up sheepishly. He trotted past the man and into the hall, his tail wagging happily.
Andrew shut the door behind them. ‘Go on then,’ he said. ‘You can sleep in my room.’