In parallel

Porter had a twin brother who became infatuated with me. He wouldn’t admit it but he loved me, and all I had to do, somehow, was be. It made things hard for us. Every time we were all together—dinner with the family or going to a movie—Brian would just go to pieces. He was a big man, distinguishable from his brother in that he had maintained his body well, yet he’d look faint and begin to jumble his words if we found ourselves together even for a moment. He’d construct opportunities for gallantry, offering to buy coffees we didn’t want or suggesting, at the first sign of a cool breeze that we should be ‘moving along’. Finally I confronted him—told him I took no offence but that he’d really have to find someone else on whom to focus his affections. He avoided us for the next month then moved away. And then, when Brian’s timid fondness for me was gone, I stopped loving Porter. I felt my feelings change as surely as the turn of the wind before the arrival of a storm-front.

Celestine again

During the 80s, when they were fresh out of school, Ziggy did everything he could to woo Celestine. The closest he came was as on-call date when she had somewhere to go but no boyfriend to go with. She saw him as no more than a friend.

In their graduation year everything changed. Lex was five years Celestine’s senior, and already forging a reputation. His achievements—short films accepted into festival programs and camera work on a TV sitcom—stacked up impressively against untested undergraduate hopes. Lex married Celestine after a whirlwind courtship. Among Celestine’s friends he was regarded with an abiding suspicion.

In spite of his pretensions it took ten years for the marriage to unravel. Ziggy found out when he called inviting Celestine to the launch of his first novel. Once again he was there for her when she needed someone. But this time there was no one else.

When she moved in with him the novel was on its second reprint. Things could scarcely have been better for him. But Celestine’s penchant for successful men kept him awake. His publisher was hounding him for a follow-up and he found himself unable to write.

Falling beautiful

Others expected him to need no more than his extraordinary beauty. They felt unexceptional in his presence, as if he could never want them. How wrong they were.

Over the years following his transformation he had become isolated. He divided his time now between the anonymity of downtown, where crowds washed past without looking, and a rocky range in deep wilderness. He gave himself up to a belief that he would always be alone.

One rush-hour he thought he saw a girl look at him with a kind of wonder. Not freak wonder. Amazement. Awe. But he lost her in the swirling crowd.

He took to his place in the mountains to mourn the loss of such a fleeting thing. He sat on a bare rock and called to the wind.

And his call returned.  She swooped down beside him, her plumage every bit as colourful and elaborate as his. She preened the wings on which he’d arrived. He returned the favour. She asked him if he would fly with her. They rose high above the clouds then, curled around each other, they free fell until the clifftops rushing up forced them apart and they wheeled away on the updrafts.

Discotheque

Warren danced like he owned the floor. Des’ree kept it cool and slow. Honey slithered up and down like a charmer’s snake. Kade picked out rhythms within rhythms. They were the kings and queens of the Electric Café.

They took to the floor early.

The suburban crowd started rolling in around eleven. They edged onto the floor in twos and threes. Not until midnight, when cocktails of all sorts were kicking in, did they begin to loosen up.

Des’ree picked out Corey, a boy not long out of high school—a basketballer perhaps. His lucky night. Honey chanced a dance with a pretty blonde with an angular mouth. ‘Matilda,’ she shouted as she began mimicking Honey’s swing and sway. Warren recognised Paul from another club. Kade just kept dancing.

Three a.m. the place started to clear. Couples, some new-formed, others who’d arrived together, took taxis back to the suburbs. Des’ree and Honey and Warren took their evening’s partners to other places.

Kade kept dancing. Rhythms within rhythms. Beats within beats. They started cleaning the place around him. Turned the lights on and the music off. Kade’s world closed down at six. The sun rose on a new day.

Dumplings

In the twenty seven years since Hans and Dee last had the place to themselves they’d established a very practical partnership. It had seemed a solid enough arrangement. But now it seemed souless, which troubled them both. They’d been inseparable in their early years, devoted as newlyweds and then again as young parents, though parenthood had brought necessary alterations to routines. But had it brought all this? The hours with barely a word between them. The differences of opinion left suspended. The passionless exchanges.

Jean, their eldest, suggested marriage guidance. They went to please her, squirmed uncomfortably through the hour-long session then laughed, at the expense of the young counsellor, all the way home. It was the closest they’d been to their old relaxed selves for months.

The next afternoon Dee arrived home with the ingredients for dumplings. They hadn’t made them since Jean was a baby. But they remembered the ritual. They divided the task as they had in the old days—she on the filling and he on the dough. Then they reunited around the bamboo steamer. They celebrated the success of each batch with a kiss and let the years wind back.

submerge

Zoe spotted it. Wasn’t sure at first—they’d been looking for the Emerald Queen for so long. But the longer they spent scouring the hulk the clearer it was that they’d found her.

One hundred and fifty years earlier she’d gone down in a gale with no survivors. Her holds had been full of plundered gold.

Light was fading when they began their last dive. In their excitement they hadn’t noticed the approaching storm. Carelessness? Who can say? There’d been many reports of strange episodes surrounding attempts to find the treasure.

The wind hit. Their boat dragged its anchor for 200 metres before smacking up onto the reef. Dimitri caught the flash of the explosion, looked up and realised they were in trouble. He tapped Zoe’s shoulder, pointed up. She looked then put her hand to her mouth. They surfaced, though the churn of the waves tried to knock them back under. Their tanks nearly empty they watched flashes of flame between crests of waves. The howling wind overpowered their voices. Eyes locked in the near darkness they held each other and tried to conquer fear with love. Until Dimitri went down.

Next to heaven

Kane couldn’t possibly find Bronwyn attractive any more. Perhaps when the two of them had been young, before Bron had—well lets just say she’d gone to seed. Her appreciation of fashion seemed to have ended some time in the 1950s and her hair looked like it was done with those old curlers grandmas use. She spent neither time nor money on her appearance. She simply didn’t care.

Laura had more pride. She insisted on regular waxing, tanning, buffing and filling, not to mention gym sessions.

Kane remained however, in spite of his wife’s dowdiness, a devoted husband. There wasn’t much Laura could do about that. But just to know that should his eye ever wander, it need not have to wander further than the house next door, that thought kept her happy. And a time would come when he would realise. These were her thoughts as Laura went through her pre-bed moisturising routine.

Next door Kane climbed into bed. Bronwyn’s softness against him at the end of each day made him truly wonder at his good fortune in life.

Back at number 28, her face done, Laura eyed the small patch of matress beside the bovine spread of her snoring husband.

A stage for Lance

Lance joined the theatre group with Denise’s blessing. He’d always done student reviews at uni. Treading the boards again, might be just the antidote to the stress of his practice.

He auditioned for the lead role in a romantic romp, and got it, to the chagrin of some of the regulars. He’d play opposite Emmaline Tomlinson, a full-figured woman with a comely smile, perfect for the role.

The first time they rehearsed was a revelation. Emmaline’s kiss in the final scene was as round, full and luscious as she was. Denise, he’d come to accept, was a pecker. He hadn’t married her for her kiss.

Emmaline suggested they fit in an extra rehearsal. Her place would be perfect—her husband was away.

He hadn’t been in such a state, since his teenage years. The waft of perfume as she opened her door didn’t help.

But Emmaline played it straight from the script. No improvisation. Just a cup of tea before he left. And a kiss at the door for good luck.

Long after the season had finished Lance imagined Emmaline’s soft, breath-stealing lips whenever Denise kissed him. He imagined them late at night, too, while his wife snored beside him.

In no hurry in Wonderland

In summer I’m brakeman—well, ‘brakewoman’—on the old roller-coaster. I lucked onto the job, right time and right place. Clocking on late one morning the shift controller said, ‘you worked the Dipper.’ Henderson had called in sick. Drunk more like, but he was a good brakeman and he’d taken me up a few times. So I nodded and got the gig and Henderson’s bender turned bad so I kept it.

The thing about brakeman is trust. Trust and timing. You get your timing wrong and the whole train gets stuck up top and that’s when stuff goes bad. People remember they’ve got a thing about heights.

Plenty of fellas have been impressed. It takes a good wrench on the grip to take the cable. I give ‘em the whole show, surfing the curves, rolling with the plunges. No fear. And when they say how about it I say, ‘not tonight, but thanks,’ or I give them a dodgy phone number and they go away happy. It’s all about trust and timing. Being brakeman I’ve got plenty of choice. There’s no hurry. I reckon I’ve got one more year then onto something easier. Tunnel of Love, perhaps.

Mid life

If Don Basset had put the money into the mortgage they’d have all but paid it off and things would have been good. But he spent the lot on a new BMW. When Larissa suggested this had been selfish—that they were a family and, besides, the old Ford had been fine—he said she didn’t trust him. Then he went searching for something to salve his injured pride. Camille liked his swagger and his veneer of affluence and her own estimation that the difference in their ages meant he’d be temporary fun.

Don imagined a love greater than anything he’d known before. Greater than the courting years and Larissa’s three pregnancies and raising their kids and being there through parents’ illnesses. Such a love.

He imagined his rediscovered youth.

One early morning, his ears ringing from the music at the club and his vision blurred by vodka shots he drove the new car into a pole.

Two days later he woke in white, surrounded by machines. He opened his eyes to his wife’s pitying face.

‘Larissa?’ he asked. Camille shook her head.

With interest

I’m on a rainswept terrace watching football. Football! I’m even seeing beauty beneath the aggression. Or is it just that I want this game Pete loves so much to be more than I’ve always thought it was.

Suddenly I’m baying with the rest. I feel animal-wild, tribal, unlike anything I’ve been before. I have passion for the mud-covered men and the contest.

The ball comes forward. Pete swoops. As he’s taking possession a tackle brings him down.

And he stays down. I can see his bloodied face. Next thing I’m trying to get to him. An official holds me back. ‘I’ll take you down to the rooms.’

Pete regains consciousness as they carry him in, his beautiful face a mess.

‘Sorry,’ he says. Then he tells me to look in his jacket pocket. Tickets to the ballet. Tonight’s show.

One look at him says his first dance recital will have to wait. He grins and even the blood and bruises can’t hide that we’re all kinds of crazy about each other. We share a battered moment of joy.

But it’s broken by defeated teammates slumping in around us. It was a game they should have won.

Red line

Even doing a hundred and thirty, the hours out here passed with nothing but desert scrub. Plenty of time to think about her waiting. She’d said he should come. It didn’t mean she was convinced. He didn’t know, himself, for sure.

After the split and all the accusations and hurtfulness he’d stayed clear of female company. He went through the DTs in an abandoned shack on a lonely road. Then he rode on through to a town where no one would find him. He took a job at the meatworks—saved what he’d could from eighteen months slaughtering everything from cattle to wild horses.

And he’d tried not to think too much. But trying not to think just made the whole thing ring out through his head, all mixed up. Now he was thinking again. He’d see the twins at last. Could she get along with him the way she once had. Before the rage. The betrayal and who knew what had come first anymore and two years in that place and…

In anger he let the engine slip up past the red line. Jet plane fast. A stab of sunset glare hit his mirror, blinding him momentarily.

…but it falls

An ancient stringybark marked the bottom of the property, where the creek used to be—it hadn’t run in years.

Harry and Carmel survived the dry years too. The drought was hard enough. As debts mounted Harry hit the bottle. At his lowest he’d hit her too. Isolated on their parched acreage with the dams empty and their few remaining sheep agysted they bunkered down through five dry years.

If it hadn’t been for Clayton the place would have been lost. He’d looked in whenever he could. Found jobs for Harry too. They rebuilt the fence between their places. Clayton set Harry up with the free-range turkeys that helped get them through.

When a week of rain filled the dams Clayton came to celebrate. Harry drank too much and passed out. Carmel and Clayton talked through the stormy night.

In the morning the stringybark was down, its shrunken roots useless in the mud. It hadn’t been the hard times that had made it vulnerable, but the slackening that followed.

Carmel and Clayton pulled on gumboots and walked to the creek, now a fast running stream along their boundary line. The fallen stringybark formed a bridge across the flow.

Of hearts and heads

I hadn’t seen her for five months. For five months thoughts of her addled everything I did. So by noon tomorrow I’d be in the air—if I could finish everything I’d promised Liz in return for four weeks leave.

While an update ran I collated reports. I made piles on my desk with post-it notes. I cleared my inbox. Finally just one call to make. I dialed the number from memory. Got a message. While it played Ferguson told me some lame joke. At the beep I left a reminder for Chaz to fix the conference invoice. My head, this whole time, was full of little else but her smile and the thought of being together.

Back home I listened to my machine while I packed. The first voice sounded awfully familiar. A message for some guy called Chaz. Chaz? I’d almost finished listening to my own goodbye before I realised what I’d done.

The next message was from her. ‘Can’t wait to see you.’ Followed by kisses. I decided not to delete it. When she realised what a bubble-brain I was she’d surely send me packing and her voice and telephone kisses would be all I’d have left.

Nurture

They’re testing my hair to see if I’m the boy’s father. One strand against all those years looking after each other.

I know, in every way I can, that he’s my son. What will happen if they find no thread between us?

My lawyer says it’s for the best. He says, ‘what do you think?’

I say, ‘I used to care for her too back then, you know.’

‘That doesn’t matter any more.’

‘I know,’ I say.

I’m wearing a suit that makes me feel I’m not quite me. At the door to the chambers I’m patted down by a couple of scrubbed-up bears. ‘Procedure,’ they say. Then they follow me to the too-big table and sit either side.

She’s opposite, dressed like she owns the place.

‘Call off the goons,’ my guy says.

Her lawyer’s gaze stays on her Blackberry. ‘If things don’t go you’re way,’ she says, ‘we’re just making sure he doesn’t try to…you know…do anything silly.’

There’s a cheap manila folder on the table next to the jug and water glasses. The door closes behind me.