WRITING

Short stories, ideas, poetry, travels

Waiting

Under a building titled 1930 Falcon Laundry, of red brick and a graffitied roller door, sits a man in a white long sleeved shirt, charcoal pants and dust-worn boots. He turns a magazine pullout over in half and straightens both his arms to support his weight on his knees with palms of his hands. He glances up and down the street. It’s empty.

He stands up, mounting one foot on the arched drainpipe he’d been sitting on and swats the wall with the magazine roll as though he were in a fashion photography shoot. A little Chinese girl passes him, walking her greyhound: black with white booties. The man stands straight against the wall, observing her.

Finally a van labeled Construction rolls in at an angle to the curb and a big smile crosses his face. An arm extends from the driver window, a pair of keys dangling from fingers. The man shoulders his bag and saunters over, retrieves the keys and unlocks the side door. A third man in a battered purple polo shirt jumps out the passenger side and enters the Falcon Laundry also.

A moment later the graffitied roller door recedes into is coil and the van squeezes through the dark of the narrow opening. The man in the white long sleeved shirt appears one last time with a metal rod in hand. He hooks it into the roller door, and in three steps, draws it shut. The street is vacant again. The day has begun.

Dangerous Currents

The week-long warm weather sunk abruptly into overcast skies. Up the road, Iggy’s bread sold out before 10:15am – a new record for the bakery.

Tom and I soldiered on towards the beach; past the park where we’d encountered a free-roaming macaw two days prior, through crooked streets testament to a suburb evolved without planning, past retro coastal-brick apartments wedged between larger, post-modern designer homes, and on to the iconic white-wood fence gilding the the eastern suburb clifftops.

Bruised cloud hung over a turquoise sea flecked with wild white caps. A cry ran from the shore as ten tai chi devotees, robed in white, danced in sync across the sand. A lone figure sporting red speedos and cap braced the ocean’s rage with hands planted on hips. Bobbing up from the surf like penguins returning from a hunt, fifteen others soon joined him. They huddled together a moment, discussing the trek from Tamarama in the adjacent cove. Then, one-by-one, launched themselves back into the waters.

A Dangerous Currents sign staked the sand in place of the usual red and yellow flags. Tom and I walked the shoreline, dodging dying blue-bottles and disassembling the shape-shifting beach front: wide and flat some seasons, gutted by king-tides; then a sharp drop-off to the breakers in the months when the local council replenished the sand.

We climbed to the ocean pool to watch the surfers paddle out through the lazy-faced waves. Their rides were short and scarce, much of the appeal simply sitting on the board, surrounded by stormy elements.

One surfer, distinctive for his canvas backpack, carved his way through the others to deeper water where the waves are only fluctuating thoughts. We joked that perhaps he had packed his picnic lunch. He sat abreast his board and swung the satchel around, removing with difficulty a white canister. Perhaps it was underwater camera housing instead.

But he removed its lid and raised it above his head, tipping its contents to the wind. We grew quiet.

Ashes fell like talcum powder, streaming back behind him. In fact, coating the surfer behind him, who dipped into the water and pulled away.

The surfer knocked the last from the tin, dunking it in the ocean, swilling and emptying the pale-grey water. The event seemed somewhat solo and unceremonious, yet I felt we had witnessed something significant; out of the ordinary.

Dry, but with sandied feet, we made our way to the cafe strip to read the weekend paper.

Skin

The sheet sticks to her skin like an unwashed floor. She blows her palms but it only pushes humidity. Take-away Thai hangs in the air and the clock hand pounds. She waits, apprehensive. She waits for her mobile to illuminate the dinge. Silent at the foot of her bed, its corpse eye threatens to snap open as soon as she looks away. Her foot slides across dated magazines as she rolls off the double bed. At the mirror she smears lip balm and sheds her clothes on her rack of shoes. She flicks the fan on high. It sparks and coasts several revolutions to a halt. With a hiss she swipes it to the floor and crashes face down into her pillow.

Green dash lights illuminate his frown like a stage production. Across the front lawn, saplings billow and curtain the house. The building sleeps but for the bathroom window. He shuts the driver’s door softly, locking it manually to avoid the pips. Ceiling stars glisten. Crickets are silenced by his footsteps across the grass to the front steps. He splashes water on his face from the garden hose and slips through the rickety screen door.

Suspended in glass, she strokes her way to the reef bed. Shoals of fish brush her skin as she winds her way though seaweed swaying to the sweeping waves. Surface space; blinding. Salt air crashes into her lungs. He stands on the dune, his lone figure silhouetted on blue sky. Treading water she waves, but he remains static. He must be facing the mountains, she thinks, and calls his name, but her cry is drowned on the waves and the stifling off-shore wind. She sets out for the beach. With each stroke the breakers remain distant. Her body aches as it strains the current and limbs grow heavy. The figure remains frozen on the dune.

His eyes gradually adjust to the ambience as he shuffles down the burgundy Persian rug that lines the hall. The skin of his arm tingles on her cashmere coat, hanging on the inside the corner of her bedroom door. Beads of sweat sparkle and collect down the line of her back. The moon carves its highlight across the deranged sheets and the dimple of her spine. He sits in the shadows at the foot of her bed – he sits on her phone. Pulling it from under him, he checks the next alarm, cancelling the 5:30am due in 2 minutes time. Though a mop of brown hair covers the pillow, he knows the angst written on her face. He reaches for a strand and twines it through his fingers. His absence for days at her most vulnerable could have been avoided. He dare not touch her skin. He would not be able to explain. She stirs; he freezes. And backs off her bed.

The heatwave encroaches from all sides. She wakes wet and burning, rolls to the dry edge. At the kitchen tap she suckles water from her hand.  Suddenly the ticking of the midday clock catches her ear. She stops.

He had come.

Tears

Back to back they sat in wind-whipped sand, beating hearts to bumpy spines. Her brown hair streamed and stung his cheek. Twisting his elbow, his hand found its way to her lap and she met it with locked fingers.

His thumb stroked absently back and forth across her knuckle until she squeezed his hand gently.

Stop thinking.

I’m trying, he answered. The waves crashed. Do you think it will ever pass?

She dropped his hand and swung around to straddle his lap. And what if it doesn’t? Her brown eyes penetrated his, leaving him childish. He tried to hide under his usual cheery composure, but not today.

Today his heart ran thin and he dropped back into the sand. Grains pressed into his hair and down the collar of his sweater and he didn’t care. His gaze diverted to the shoreline, despite burning to level with hers.

She sized him up from above. Her man. An oversized boy. She bent down, arms folded across his chest, her nose and inch from his cheek.

Her warm breath contrasted the ocean breeze, commanding attention. He returned from the shoreline to her wide eyes, so close his focus was soft. The weight of her body pressed into his and he received it.

I don’t know how to word it.

She felt him pulling away again. I know. Or else you would have said it already. She took the palms of his hands in hers and pinned them to the ground above his head in surrender.

I don’t want to be like this…

I know that. Her eyes remained steady on him.  And it’s ok. She nudged him sideways and he lay on top.

She faced him squarely. Patiently. Presupposing nothing. And with those constant eyes he was knocked breathless, until he had to sit up. Not to escape to the shore again, but to comprehend what lay before him.

It doesn’t bother you?

I don’t like it. But I understand it’s there.

With those words, he felt the first of it begin to seep from him. Unresolved. But it drained from him unresolved like a swing-set unraveling its twisted chain.

She brought his head to her breast and held him as his tears ran wet and unawares to him.

And the weight of his body pressed into hers, and she received it.

White Stripes

White stripes extend to the vanishing point where darkness swallows the headlights. In nighttime’s cocoon the world shrinks to dashboard dials, Coldplay and the intermittent flash of high-beams. Rhythms of the road seduce his eyes. Roll and flick… refocus – sharp breath.

Already he’s at home, his mind previewing the warm greeting from his father, the welcomed cheer of his friend. He knows where he will drink on Saturday night and who will stay on till Sunday dawn.

A late run home is one more deadline to meet, a challenge to the capability of youth. But as white stripes creep closer, he drifts further away. Cosiness is for the inexperienced and ill-fated. Grinding corrugated lane markers warn of transport’s delicate ecosystem.

He saw the tree, but its placement didn’t register logically. Roll and flick… refocus – sharp breath. Wrench… break.

Squealing overcorrected on two wheels, the metallic shell lifts and sparks across the bitumen, roof forgiving the convex of a second tree.

His right ribcage bears seat-belt abrasions where he had allowed it slip, but more notably, the windscreen’s fragile glass proved stronger than his fragile skull.

Breath is forgotten in the forest’s reverent hush. Only the radiator dares hiss, joined by the distant cries of the ocean.

Hours later I travelled his last white stripes on foot. It was a long walk – traffic jam on my left, youths heedlessly playing cricket on the vacant right. But as I reached the red and blue, the mood grew sombre, I was asked to wait. The chopper spotlight rose like a UFO above the highway crowds and slipped into the heavens. The cricketeers returned to their vehicles and I hurried back to mine as traffic cranked up once more.

Work lights exposed a twisted underbelly, as broken as he who once drove it. I shrank down behind my wheel as I passed, for fear the workmen may see my guilty lurking yawn, and focused especially hard on the white stripes ahead.