Chrallaweh

She is beautiful. As the day she was born. I can’t look away because I know I’ll never see her again once permitted to leave. Love, anger, despair; they fill my soul as my eyes burn every detail of her perfect face into my mind. She’s writing. It fills me with dread and helplessness yet I stand up from her bed and walk toward her tiny, furious fingers. Do they pinch the pencil like it’s a sabre, or an innocent, memorial tool of a young girl? I must know what she’s writing. The words creep over her shoulder like demons I hoped to defeat.

They said you’re evil, but I think you’re heroic. They said you’re a terrorist, but I think you’re a warrior. They said you’re the shame of Chrallaweh, but I think you’re the pride of Australia . . .

Her blasphemous words, however accurate, fill my eyes with terror as I gaze at her fragile reflection in the desk’s mirror. The words look like guns pointed at her, like nooses around her neck, like starving dogs poised to rip her to shreds. But I’m helpless, I read on.

. . . You destroyed the church daddy. It burned like it was consumed by Hell. Mummy said she’d tell me one day why you did it, what went on in that building, why you said I should pray to God at the home shrine, under the gaze of His Eyes. But I don’t like those cameras daddy, I want to pray where I want, when I want, but mummy said it was either His Eyes or the bad men at the church . . .

Frantic, I begin looking around the room for a sign of her intentions. A match, a lighter, a fucking pair-of-scissors, but I find nothing. Thoughts black as the Devil’s soul creep into my head as it occurs to me what those bastard Priests will do if they find the note. The countless hours I sacrificed subverting the evil hypocrisy which had been creeping over my country since I was a boy; could God possibly allow my daughter to pay for sins I committed in the pursuit of righteousness? No. He does not control the actions of the wicked.
‘Candace?’ whispers a voice from the bedroom-door.
‘Yes mummy?’
I follow the turn of Candace’s head, and remember my love for the slender blonde within the door-frame. Jennifer.
‘How’s it coming?’ she asks.
‘You encouraged her to do this?’ I think in disbelief.
‘Ok, I guess. I miss daddy.’
‘Keep going honey. You’ll feel better when you’re done. I miss him too.’
‘Ok mum.’
Jennifer leaves and closes the door behind her. ‘I miss both my ladies,’ I think, before returning to Candace’s note with increased foreboding.

. . . I’ll never forget what you said, daddy. That religion’s denial of evolution is ironic because religion is entirely the product of the evolution of mankind. That every civilisation since humans first sowed seeds and caged cows has invented ever more intricate, far-reaching and, eventually, monotheistic religions. You said religion has a necessary place in civilisation as a source of hope and comfort for those with no other, but religion should never control the two most vital pillars of mankind: government and science. You also said I’d one day understand your words. I still don’t, daddy. But I believe them, like everything you said, with all my heart, forever . . .

???????????????????????????????

Despair. Love. The two bi-polar emotions fill me like simultaneous fire and ice and I fall to the floor, paralysed by helplessness. I begin screaming for answers: ‘Why am I here!? What possible purpose is seeing my daughter nail her own coffin meant to achieve!? What is she going to do!? If she puts that note in her draw I’ll never forgive You! If she does that, she’s doomed, and You might as well leave me here to see her tortured and mutilated, because I will never forgive You.’ Candace drops her pencil. It lies in front of my face and behind it, under the desk, sits an aluminium dustbin. As she retrieves the pencil, I crawl under the desk and peer into the bin’s cold-interior. A packet of matches lies conspicuously, and blessedly, at its base. ‘Thank You,’ I mutter, crossing myself, and raise back up to read the remainder of my beloved child’s memoir. Relieved of much of my anxiety, the eloquence, intelligence, and passion—especially the passion—of her writing hits me with my greatest regret: that I should miss seeing this precious girl grow up, that I should not bear witness to her achievements. Was it all worth it? I look at Your son’s photo on the wall, cruelly disfigured with the words “God loves you, and God will punish you” and realise, yes, it was. Then I look at my daughter, and remember the world of my youth, the world she or her children might one day be lucky enough to know; a free world. Certainly, yes.

. . . I told them I hate you daddy. I told them I hate you for what you did to the holy place, but the truth is, the truth is daddy, I don’t hate you. I’ll never hate you. They said your soul is now burning in the depths of Hell, but I think you’re in Heaven. And until I see you there when I die I’ll miss you every day. I love you daddy.
Jessica.

Burn it. Burn it. Burn it, I whisper. She raises from her chair, walks to the window and welcomes in the frigid midnight. She returns sleepily to the desk, pulls the aluminium dustbin from beside her feet, and withdraws the packet of matches from its depths. She hesitates. After dragging her index finger down the length of the page, with me urging, willing, compelling her to follow through, she lays it into its furnace and follows with the first-struck-match. And, after the thin note erupts into flames fiercer than my hatred for those I can no longer fight, I drift toward Heaven with its smoke.

Exegesis (this story was originally a university task, and this exegesis serves the purpose of academically analysing the work for my tutor’s benefit):
• My fear is that it’s counterproductive to its quality, or it simply doesn’t show to the degree I’ve intended. Regardless, this story contains elements I’m very passionate about;
• The novel 1984 changed my life, for good and ill. This story is heavily inspired by that book. The idea of an evil, religious oligarchy controlling Australia fills me with terror. In many ways the unnamed central protagonist in the story is me, because I know I would do anything within my power to keep religious extremism from controlling this country;
• At this point I must make one point clear: this story is an argument against extremism, not religion. I’ve known many religious people, some good, some bad, and my biggest problem with both good and bad religious people I’ve known is they often allow their religion to subvert their reason. Faith can destroy people if it’s wildly and impossibly optimistic, or full of zealotry;
• Candace writing her thoughts is a direct, though much more innocent, homage to Winston Smith from George Orwell’s classic. Her unnamed, ghost-father’s terror is in many ways a homage to the part of Winston’s brain which knows he should stop writing, that the slightest act of treason means death;
• The story is a social criticism of an imagined world I hope is impossible and, thankfully, currently far from ever being realised in this country. In many ways it is also a criticism of Orwell’s imaginary world. A nation, like a person, requires balance. While an Australia—or Chrallaweh (pronounced Kra-la-weh (a combination of Christ, Allah and Yaweh))—controlled by a religious oligarchy terrifies me, the opposite, a purely political oligarchy such as Big Brother’s bent on absolute control, terrifies me also. Entities such as this tend to outlaw religion, because it detracts from worship of the leader or party. While I’m agnostic, I recognise religion’s need to exist in balance alongside other social influences;
• I want to challenge people to think when they read this. Things like: ok, I’m religious, I’m not religious, regardless, do I think I’d enjoy living in a world such as this? I want people to think about whether the people who have power over their lives deserve to have such power. And also what is being done with that power, and what kind of person are they because of this powerful influence. Perhaps it’s the journalism student in me, but I believe it’s important to always challenge, always criticise others and oneself. Not attack. It must be based on reason and calm argument, and as much as possible avoid verbal or physical abuse;
• The story is set in the present day, or near future, and is most certainly dystopian. I couldn’t write about a utopia unless it was heavily ironic. Australia is a secular, anti-oppressive, diverse place. Unfortunately, I was unable to paint a full picture subverting that for the purposes of entertainment, but I hope the hints in this short story are well-conveyed.

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Last Wave

With a lion’s roar, the engine wakes. Exhaust fumes pour forth from the rusty tail-pipe like a smoke-machine from a bad dance-party. I just sit there, in the driver’s seat, tapping my fingers against the rubbery lips which the window emerges from, growing slightly impatient, but still enjoying the moment. Nirvana, a ’90s rock band, pumps from the speakers with a conflicted, soothing-melancholy. Looking like warped ironing-boards with the legs removed, three surfboards in their striped covers lie in the rear of the station-wagon, on top of one of the rear seats, which has been folded down in order to accommodate them. Many things in life have many uses, but surfboards, in the absence of water and propulsion, whether in the form of a boat pulling them, or a wave spurring them forward, are quite useless. Unless perhaps as art. Most surfers would agree they are pleasing to the eye, depending on their age, condition and the level in which they have been rendered yellow by water invading minute cracks in their fibre-glass. I’m not sure if I can speak for my comrades but I, as a surfer, have always felt just as useless as a surfboard would when not being propelled across the surface of some liquid glass. My name, in case you were curious, is Steve. I’m also known as Steven, Steve-o, or bucket-arse; the latter being a reference to the fact that, when riding a wave, I stick my arse out slightly, like there’s a bucket stuck on it. Don’t bother asking for a surname, because I don’t have one. I’m an orphan. I’m not sure if it’s common-practice for orphanages to neglect providing their charges with the family names they are denied at birth, but I don’t care. If, by chance, I one day wait beside a holy-man, at the end of a row of pews, separated by a velvet strip, for the woman in white whose star I’ll hitch my wagon to, I may decide on a family-name; perhaps something Scottish. Perhaps I’ll just take hers. In the meantime I neither want nor require a name to suggest that I have ever had a father. The same goes for my comrades. There’s two, of three, in the back-seat of the car with me. In no particular order, the first’s name is Jim, Jimbo, Jimmy, or Stutter, in reference to the way in which he speaks when talking to even the least-attractive female. Regardless of his red-hair and freckles which spread like potato crops across his pale skin, and due in large part to the surfer’s physique that we all share, he’s an attractive guy, although none of us would ever tell him so. The second’s name is Marion. We generally call him Mazza, but have neglected to apply a nick-name representing one of his inherent weaknesses. I mean, his name is Marion. What greater weakness could we find in a 6-foot-1, blonde, well muscled, strong featured, talented surfer, who gets all the girls? It’s almost as if the director of the orphanage could see into the future of the wailing baby which had been delivered to him, and promptly decided that a name highly inappropriate for a male would be apt in order to limit his powers to take over the world.

In any event, both of them are the most mild-mannered blokes I’ve ever met and, surprisingly, they also happen to be brothers. There is almost nothing to suggest that they are in fact brothers, except for, well . . . did I mention they’re mild mannered? Not entirely true. They’re mild-mannered to everyone except each other; a small exception which helps flabbergasted people decide that there’s a small-chance of blood-ties between them. As I sit, enjoying some down-beat radio rock ‘n’ roll while keeping an eye on the sibling-shoving-match going on behind me, I first wonder, with a slight shake of the head, why I let them sit next to each other. Secondly, I muse on the fourth occupant of the car or, more accurately, I muse on the person who should be the fourth occupant of the car but has neglected to plonk their arse in the seat at the expected time, in typical fashion. This person is like no other bloke I’d yet met, due in large part to the fact that she is not a bloke. She’s my girlfriend, to my constant surprise and delight. Currently, I’m snapped out of my day-dreaming as the rear hatch of the wagon swiftly opens and a board is thrown, in the same fashion in which you or I would throw an overnight bag into the back of a car, on top of the other three, instantly breaking up the shoving match, much to my relief. From the rear-vision mirror, I witness her fine features pull back like silk sliding over marble, into a breathtaking smile. ‘Sorry,’ she says, with a small bite of her lower-lip, a shrug of the shoulders and promptly following slam of the hatch. Then, with all three of the occupants of the car following her with eyes-wide and mouths agape, she jogs the short distance to the front passenger-door, wrenches it open and alights with a soft thump into the seat next to me. ‘Sorry I’m late. Couldn’t find any sun-screen.’
‘Y’know you can always use some of mine,’ I respond with a sentimental wink. She mockingly pokes her tongue out at me. ‘Have you got everything, now?’ I query.
‘I’m sure I’ve forgotten something,’ she responds while turning and slamming the door shut. ‘Let’s go!’ she exclaims in my direction, before whipping her blonde-pony-tail around and facing the road in the expectation of it beginning to move under the car. I hesitate, watching her, for the shortest of moments. Unlike Jim, Marion and myself, she’s aware of the source of her existence and is named Lucy Pretoria. It wasn’t love at first sight, but still, since meeting her, it seemed as if she’d grabbed hold of a cricket-bat, swung with all her might, and knocked my heart to heaven, albeit in slow-motion. It was surfing that brought us together, and surfing that kept us that way. In the early days we’d sit past the breakers at dawn and. . . . ‘Steve . . . what are you waiting for?’ I hear her interrupt, through the thick clouds of my increasingly sentimental introspection.
‘I love you,’ I simply say, in a dreamy tone, with half-open eye-lids.
‘I love you too, but I love waves a lot more.’
I chuckle softly to myself, ease the gears into first and neglect to indicate, before guiding the car from the side of the road and into the path of a van approaching from behind.

A coma is predictably like sleep, with a few differences. With sleep, it is generally a choice, except after too many drinks. No-one who values the precious minutes of their life would choose to slip into a coma. Also, while sleeping, a dream or collection of dreams may occur in which happiness, sadness, or both, may be felt. In a coma, or at least mine, there was only sadness. The sands of everything precious in my life were washed away repeatedly by cyclone swells of evil. The subsequent, partial-memory-loss I experienced upon finally waking all those years later, remain my only comfort from the dreams of unconsciousness. Dreams or, more accurately, nightmares, in which I’d lose the people close to me. Crossing the road, my mother was leading me from a pace in front before being torn from my hand by a passing semi-trailer. I watched as my father was ripped to shreds by wolves, like a bloody pile of leaves in a strong gust of wind. You may be remembering, at this point, that I am an orphan who has never met his parents, let alone felt the need to. I guess the stubborn aloofness of my adult brain was overruled by the lonely child of my subconscious. I’ve never been aware of the existence of a brother, but had always carried a strange suspicion and longing. As if I were a bird, floating on cold ocean waters, I watched in forlorn resignation as he drowned and slowly sank into the depths. His eyes never left mine until they disappeared. Over and over again, I bore witness as every single person I feared in even the least to lose, was murdered, raped, dismembered, strangled, drowned, electrocuted, crushed, tortured, dragged, burned or crucified. Lucy was the only exception: in countless, recurring nightmares, she would simply vanish. As an added measure of torture, her loss would exist within my mind during the loss of all the others, whether I witnessed them as a child or a withered old man, until it was time for her to vanish again.

Fifteen years later, I wake screaming in a lonely, white-room with a simple, square-window revealing torrential rains to my left and an equally simple door to my right. The screams quickly turn to coughing as I realise my throat feels like sandpaper. Turning instinctively to my right in search of water, I’m startled to see a woman sitting in a chair in the corner, looking back at me. I guess her to be in her early thirties, only because she smiles at me without showing her teeth; a reservation which suggests maturity. She must be someone important to me, I think, as she wears a yellow, tight-fitting t-shirt and faded, blue-jeans, rather than a nurse’s uniform, and the ceiling light dances in the moistness welling in her eyes. As I notice a single-tear escape from her right-eye, along the gentle curve beside her button-nose, she suddenly leaps from the chair, throws herself over my torso and begins to sob violently, as if a strong electric current is running through her. I watch in stunned silence, realising I can’t feel her on my stomach, but only through my head as her shaking vibrates through the hospital bed, to my pillow.
‘Steve!’ she manages to shriek after recovering a measure of control. ‘I knew you’d wake eventually!’
‘I’m sorry,’ I croak groggily in reply. ‘Who are you?’
She ceases to cry and raises her head from the confines of her arms, to gaze penetratingly at me. ‘I love you too, but I love waves a lot more,’ she quotes herself, and it all comes flooding back.
‘Lucy. I missed you so much,’ and it became my turn to sob uncontrollably. ‘I had so many nightmares, so much death and pain. I lost everyone: You, Steve, Marion and even members of family that my sub-conscious invented for the sole purpose of my misery.’ It spills from me like the guts of a filleted fish; that I’d spent the past fifteen years, in which I experienced every second, losing people in gruesome, heartbreaking and repetitive fashions. She listens in her prostrate position on the bed and weeps silently till her eyes dry up like drought-stricken farms. We profess our undying love for each other like school-children until she slides up next to me, we kiss, and both promptly fall asleep.

I wake first the following morning to notice that the storms have vanished and a beam of light in the silhouette of a cross has penetrated the room like a holy presence. As my eyes relish the natural light-show with fascination, I hear a cough by the door which also wakes Lucy. A nurse in a crisp, white uniform is standing just inside the door-way, with her hands folded in front of her in the shape of a V. I immediately ask, ‘Nurse, why can’t I feel below my neck?’
Her face, while grave as she first stood at the door, only darkens like a worsening storm as she un-folds her arms and smooths the sides of her dress compulsively. She looks up to make eye-contact with Lucy, who locks eyes with the nurse momentarily and then breaks the contact, snuggles into my side and becomes as silent and motionless as a stone. The nurse moves to sit at the foot of the bed, and introduces herself as Miss, or nurse, Swansong. Settling herself in at the end of the bed, and engaging my eyes with a soberness that I could not make a comparison with, ‘You’re a quadriplegic, Steven,’ she says with hollow simplicity. I attempt to move my legs first, wondering why I had not before; they wouldn’t budge. Beginning a wretched sob which should have begun as a shaking in my chest, I next attempt my arms, to no avail. My weeping develops an increased fervour in response. Through my sheen of tears, I can see the nurse glancing from me, to Lucy and then back again. ‘I’m terribly sorry, Steven,’ she says in a tone which is all too real. I lament in my mind the fact that I had woken from a fifteen-year nightmare into another that would last me my entire life, such as it looked to be. ‘Nurse,’ I say with a lingering pause. ‘Could you please leave us alone’
She obliges with a ‘Certainly’, and silently closes the door as she leaves; now for the final, grim reality.
‘Lucy.’
She shrinks as much as she can, into a human ball by my side.
‘Lucy, please.’
Reluctantly, she lowers herself from the bed and moves to its end with the mannerisms of a death-row in-mate, after a last meal. She forces a broad smile while beginning to remove her clothes; my love for her reached its zenith, and stayed there forever, with that glimpse of her teeth. Finally, she stands before me completely unadorned, as perfect as a statue of a Grecian goddess, but nothing; all the movement of an old man reading the weekend-paper. Lucy creeps seductively onto the bed, kisses me and presses herself against me; still nothing. She moves her hand under the sheet and begins to massage; I can’t even feel it. I could however feel her tears splashing on my face.

The familiar sounds of breaking-waves wash through my mind, clearing away the cob-webs of exhaustion-induced sleep; ironically familiar, as I had not actually heard such sounds in almost two-decades. The sound of white-water is like classical music: a soothing background accompaniment to a strong cup-of-tea and an engaging read. Opening my eyes, I’m dazzled by the amber light of the new-born sun, not a half-hour above the horizon. Like a spectral entity seeking peaceful rest, the winter mist rises from the surface of the water and drifts out to sea, towards the resplendent beacon. I assume that both the hand resting on mine and the nose of the board in the upper-left-corner of my vision belong to Lucy. ‘It looks good,’ I begin, referring to the undulating surf approaching the sand. ‘Are you going out?’
‘Jimmy and Marion are dead,’ she says coolly, and so suddenly, as the surf continues to pound the sand in indifferent routine. I see her grip tighten on my hand and I’m grateful for it. In the immediate moments after her shocking revelation, it seems that her hand is my only anchor to this world; my one island, in a sea of pain.
‘They died instantly, and you’ve suffered infinitely more than enough,’ she says while beginning to walk towards the waters edge. She turns back toward me and continues, ‘By all means, mourn, but if you try to blame yourself, you’ll have me to deal with, clear?’
Before I can respond to her rhetorical question, she turns once again and begins to wade out through the shore-break. I watch the early-light play in the ripples around her legs, and think many a joyous thought. My final joyous thoughts, in fact, when I accepted she would never again leave the water.

That Guy

‘Goddamn bus, how long do I have to linger in this shit-hole?’ I thought. I could still see the Centrelink sign across the road, hangin’ over the entrance to the Labrador branch I’d just visited. The bastards accused me of fraudulently obtaining disabled benefits. It was true, but they’re still bastards. The bus was a million-kilometres away for all I knew, and all I could see were Gold Coast City Cabs zoomin’ ‘round with filthy towel-heads behind the wheel; no way in hell I’d fork out for one of those. I noticed a Cash Converters a few doors down from Fascistlink and started fingerin’ me girlfriend’s ring. I don’t mean it was a ring she gave me. No, it was HER ring. Shouldn’t’ve left it lyin’ ‘round, the silly bitch. I raised meself up from the bench, which was a tough thing to do in the midday heat. Half-expected melted tarmac to swallow me into a black, nightmarish grave as I began strollin’ across the road. Didn’t though; how borin’. Me phone started ringin’, so I pulled it outta me pocket with me right hand, while givin’ the finger to a prick who’d beeped me with me left.
‘Hey, ma!’ I answered, feigning delight.
‘Hey hon’,’ she sing-songed to me, ‘what’re ya up to?’
‘Just doin’ some studyin’ out the front of the house,’ I gave the finger to another car.
‘That’s me boy,’ she gushed. ‘Wanna come over for dinna tonight?’
‘Hell yeah!’ FREE FOOD. ‘Six pm?’
‘See ya then, I’ll fry up some salmon, love ya.’
‘Love ya,’ I closed, shoved the phone back in me pocket, and slammed the ring down on the Cash Converters counter. ‘How much for this?’

Love and disgust rose in her spine like vomit as she watched him enter the pawn-shop.

‘Hey babe,’ I said, as I walked through the door to me girlfriend’s digs. I threw me keys on the kitchen bench, grabbed a beer from the fridge, ripped its head off, and saddown in fronna the teevee.
‘Hey,’ drifted her voice from the bedroom. I burped. She walked in front of the teevee. ‘Have you seen my grandmother’s ring?’ she interrogated, with crossed-arms.
‘Thought it was your ring.’
‘It WAS my ring, that my grandmother gave me when she died,’ her hands melted into her pockets. ‘It was worth one-thousand dollars!’
‘Fuck’, I thought, ‘I only got a-hundred for it.’
‘Dunno know what ya talkin’ ‘bout,’ I dismissed. She headed back to the bedroom, eyeballin’ me ‘til out of me vision.
‘Can you at least help me look for it?’
‘Later, goin’ to ma’s for dinna soon!’
‘Can I come?’
‘Could ya shuddup!? I can’t hear the teevee! She’s cookin’ rissoles anyway, ya hate rissoles!’
‘I’ll stay home,’ and she fell silent.
‘Thank God,’ I thought. I glanced at the text-books on the coffee table, and a paranoid attack hit me brain like a Nazi blitzkrieg. I neglected those books; I neglected me friends; I neglected me ma; I neglected me girlfriend; I neglected meself; I took another swig and changed the channel. The attack passed.
‘What, the, FUCK, is this!?’ she screeched like a train braking into station, from the kitchen. I turned me head. She was holding a receipt, which I knew was written on it: $100, antique diamond ring, Cash Converters, Have a Nice Day :). I sighed. Her abuse was unceasing. I got up and went to the fridge for the rest of me six-pack, her hate swirlin’ ‘round me like a tornado; impossible to pick up individual words, though I’m sure ‘bastard’ and ‘liar’ were in there somewhere. I sat back down in front of the teevee and consumed the ale along with her furious tirade. Horrible, but deserved. I paid attention to her rant; she may’ve killed me if I didn’t. After drainin’ the last of me sixer, I stood up, walked up to her, put me face in front of her hate-filled-words, then leaned back and aimed me clenched fist at her crimson-skin. Missed, too drunk. I pulled back up in time to see her approachin’ fist, then darkness.

She watched all this from the street, through a window, her shame being slowly replaced with anger.

‘That’s quite the shiner ya got there, hon,’ said ma, layin’ the salmon before me and fixing her eyes on mine. ‘What ‘appened?’
‘Walked into a door at uni’,’ I lied, ‘it’s no biggie.’
‘Well, ya gotta be more careful,’ she lectured, subtle disbelief in her voice.
‘Look ma, I said it’s no biggie,’ I raised me voice. ‘Don’t worry about it!’
She changed the subject, ‘How’s uni’ goin’, anyway?’
‘Well,’ I mumbled with a mouthful of fish, ‘I made some progress today.’ I was talkin’ ‘bout Centrelink, which was loosely related to university, though she didn’t need to know I was on the verge of bein’ kicked out for failin’ me classes, not payin’ fees and abusin’ the teaching staff.
‘I know about ya progress,’ she said ominously, lowerin’ herself into a chair in front of me. ‘I received a phone call today. Apparently you’re not going to class, you owe fees, abuse people and are suspected of stealin’ equipment.’
‘Look ma, it’s all bullshit!’ I wasn’t stealin’ equipment, that WAS bullshit. ‘Can we forget it!?’
‘Ok . . . just as long as ya know what ya doin’.’
‘I’m fine,’ I reassured, and we finished the meal in silence.
‘Bye ma,’ I kissed her on the cheek before steppin’ through the front-door. ‘Thanks for dinna.’
‘Be a good boy, ‘k?’ her voice followed me out into the frosty air.
‘I will.’
I froze. There she was, standin’ on the street holdin’ a pistol: the girl I fucked last weekend. Knew I should’ve said goodbye . . . and not stolen all the cash from her wallet. . . .
She wandered up the garden path holding a Magnum .357, every inch an angel of death, and unceremoniously pulled the trigger between his eyes.

Exegesis (this story was originally a university task, and this exegesis serves the purpose of academically analysing the work for my tutor’s benefit):
• George Harrison in I Dream of Magda and Icarus in A Night at the Pink Poodle are deeply flawed, even dislikeable characters, at once hero and villain. My protagonist is mostly villain, and only briefly considers the error of his ways. I remember reading once that villains should not be likeable; my protagonist is a manifestation of that rule.
• The story’s set on the Gold Coast, as highlighted by the Gold Coast City Cabs and mention of Labrador. The suburb helps to highlight the base existence of the protagonist, and his racism towards ‘towel heads’ highlights his degenerative qualities.
• The second viewpoint comes regularly, but not often and in short duration, in the form of the one-night-stand who eventually murders him. In a way it’s her story, though mainly from his first-person point-of-view.
• The character’s relationship with his mother is one of love, shame and denial. He is loved by other women, but it doesn’t last long, is marked by chauvinistic abuse, and ultimately ends in his death. He’s abusive to his mother, but the abuse is tempered by his love, and her unconditional love maintains the strained relationship.
• The protagonist’s language is linked to three things. First, it highlights his degenerative, lazy—even abusive, in this case to and with language—approach to everything. Second, it’s inspired partly by the language in Swallow the Air; coarse and lacking in education, as many aboriginal people, both in and out of literature, unfortunately are. Third, the language is influenced by a book called And the Ass Saw the Angel. This book used speech such as ‘ah’ instead of ‘I’ to highlight rural, uneducated—even inbred—use of language, and, to a degree, it influenced the protagonist and his mother’s speech—minus the inbreeding.
• This story is consistent with my tendency to write in a gritty, suburban and not terribly fantastical—though I’ve read much fantasy—style. I’m heavily influenced by writers such as Hunter S. Thompson and classic literature that deals with the everyday or mundane in a vivid light. I Dream of Magda inspired me heavily (I lapped-up the book in a couple of days).
• Though I, too, indulge in self-destructive practices such as drinking/smoking, and occasionally neglect my relationships, I am horrified by stories I hear of men abusing women, and this horror makes regular appearances in my writing.
• This piece has taught me that it’s true: you can only break the rules once you know them. I believe I’ve reached a point where I can start being adventurous, especially with the way characters speak and think. The regular elision of ‘g’ from the protagonist’s ‘ing’ words is risky, but consistent, and a departure for me.
• The piece is, in some ways, a departure for me and hopefully an improvement. I’ll keep writing as long as I have fingers and a brain, and my writing will continue to protest against negatives I perceive in society and my own gender. I hope to continue to learn how to manipulate stories and language in order to do so.

Agony to Ecstasy

Does time heal all wounds? I dunno. I dunno whether time can change hurt that feels as raw as a slaughter-house floor. The first thrust of the knife. The knife’s long gone now, but still the hurt remains. Such savage hurt. That’s all I want: for the hurt to change, not go away—which is impossible—but simply to change. From a piercing agony to a dull ache, would be nice. What would you do if you could help? Would you lick the wound, offer up your bodily fluids in the vain hope of assistance? You should. It was you who caused the wound, drove a deep cavity within me, void of hope for regeneration.

‘I have to end it,’ were your words, recalled vividly after all these years despite my notoriously bad memory. A full moon that night, and those words slide ‘cross my eyes like subtitles every full-moon gaze since. The true tragedy of heartbreak: anything associated with it is tarnished. Now I hate the full-moon. The glowing orb mocks me and raises the tides ‘til I fear the rivers will flood and drown not my lungs, but my heart; blessed though the earthly departure would be to my gaping wound.

‘This is like something from a sad movie,’ came my immature reply, but what of it? Why should my reply in the face of devastation not be equal in ignorance to my poverty of life experience? The fact I spoke at all belied the reality of my delayed reaction, and struggle with acceptance.

But the years twisted away, as they do, into the future, without anything close to the control we believe we have over them. Our lives are like snakes dipped in oil: you can hold them and feel them move through your fingers, yet you’ve not a hope in the world of directing them. And if you completely lose control, the fangs, death.

I’m awake now, my eyes’ve fluttered open and I’m acutely aware of the thin foam mattress under my arse, separated only by sweat-soaked linen. The fan is doing its frantic work above me, and I realise it’d probably remind me of ‘Nam, had I been old enough to ’ave gone, but it certainly reminds me of the movies. Some of the most wonderful rock music of all-time; set to the backdrop of millions of young lives ending. Shocking to go from dreams of heartbreak and death-by-snake, to thoughts of mass murder by the establishment. Makes sense though. I start work in half-an-hour. It’s 5.30am on Saturday morning. Everyone else is either asleep or still partying. Lucky bastards, all. I could have a shower, I could have breakfast, I could brush my teeth . . . I could also visit my parents more and try talking to God again, but it ain’t gonna happen, so I take a quick swig of water from the tap, and silently—I don’t know why, when my housemate wouldn’t return the favour—close the front door behind me.

It’s freezing cold, being—shock horror!—the middle of winter, but at least it’s not raining. I actually don’t mind riding in the rain, but I prefer it on the way back from work. Feels good to indulge in the anti-glamour of riding home through icy, pin pricks of liquid while even truck-drivers pass by in better conditions. Feels good to know that the pain and humiliation may someday be replaced by comfort and respect. Jeez, I’m probably delirious from the sleep deprivation. The sun’s up, but it’s blocked by ominous clouds which make for a gloomy morning, appropriately. There’s not many people out-and-about and I wonder just what those who are, are up to.

I’ll spare you the mundane details of my five-hours enduring the soul crushing mediocrity of working at Coles. If you’ve ever been tortured for information, you’d understand: you’re tortured and tortured and tortured, until your eyes bulge from your skull and every nerve in your body burns as if molten rock courses through it. But you remain silent, give away nothing. I fly out of there on my bike like that guy from ‘The Great Escape’ over the fence of the POW camp. If I collide face-first with a car now, its metal-work’d have a nice, neat set of grinning teeth marks in it. Halfway home, it starts raining.

The letterbox speaks to me as I ride past: ‘If I’ve got important mail, it’ll be completely ruined in a few hours.’ He’s right, he’s a completely useless—despite his oratory skills—mailbox the real estate replaced the old, dependable brick one with. What happened to old dependable? Some junkie drove her car straight through it one morning, spewing brick and mortar (and junk mail) over the front yard and into the garage roller-door. I swear, the noise she made, it sounded like the world was coming to an end. Though I might’ve been killed, I wish I had’ve seen it. I lock my bike to the metal railing out the front, and saunter back to Mr Mouth the mailbox, comforted by the fact my mobile phone is safely wrapped up in a cheap plastic bag. I sigh with a strong, upwards exhalation at the disappointment of there not being any mail, which sprays water past my eyes. Stupid mailbox is messin’ with me.

‘Nobody loves you?’ comes the lilting, confident voice from behind me. I turn to see red-hair made auburn by the rain, fair skin turned red on the nose and cheekbones from the cold, a saturated green shirt and whitewashed jeans over a svelte figure and, that smirk, in the corner of her mouth, as she stands by her bike.
‘No news is good news,’ I return, with uncharacteristic wit.
‘Well, you’re obviously a man who doesn’t have bills rolling in,’ she says, maintaining that smirk, transfixing me with it. ‘But you don’t look as though you’ve got much cash rolling in, either,’ she eyes the ‘Coles’ logo on my drowned shirt. I look at the logo, and feel like vomiting.
‘Yes to both,’ I say while lifting my gaze, heroically, back to hers, ‘but . . . from next week’s cheese prices, to the latest suicide techniques, direct from the most depressing industry in existence . . . I can get you what you need.’
Her full-smile reaction warms me.

She didn’t even stay for breakfast. I’m a little disappointed. All that’s left is the smell of lavender, like I’m standing in a field of them, and a couple of crimson strands contrasted against the white pillow. A tragedy. I fell in love in front of the mailbox, and now, here I am again, feeling as though I’ve had my insides vacuum sealed by my skin. Well suck me dry and store me in a luggage compartment: she was just using me for sex. A new one, but I’m not happy. It’s typical, and hopefully not limited to males: we always want just exactly what we haven’t received. What if I’d poked my head out the door to see her red-mane flowing in the breeze of the fan, as she whipped me up some toast and coffee? Well, right now, I’d be relieved and happy. But is that how I’d actually feel, or is it simply in comparison to how I feel now, having been abandoned? A knock at my bedroom door.
‘Hey man,’ my housemate says in a low voice, ‘there’s a note out here for you.’
I drag myself out of bed with a groan, it being so close to the floor and all, put some pants on and venture out. The note’s on the bench, and I’m characteristically sceptical. ‘It’s probably a guilt-note ‘cause of the STI she was carrying,’ I should’ve thought, but say instead to my speechless housemate, ‘. . . or something,’ attempting to soften the dry-sarcasm. He scurries back to his room. I fold my arms lazily below the note, and begin to read:
‘John, stop thinking about it right now, please. . . .’
It’s like telling someone, ‘don’t think about the elephant’, then asking them what they’re thinking about . . . yeah.
‘ . . . Just enjoy it for what it was. I can’t stop you from thinking about it; what I mean is to not analyse it. I know you, ok, I’m not going to tell you how, but suffice to say you’re more deeply involved in social networks than your introverted mind would have you believe. I know you obsess, I know you neglect, I know you engage in self-destructive behaviour. But, I also know you’re beautiful and that I’m not the girl for you. . . .’
At least she’s being honest.
‘ . . . Do yourself a favour, please: be, in, the, moment. You were only comfortable with me yesterday because I surprised you, and even then I think I got lucky, pun intended. . . .’
Just my luck she’s not interested.
‘ . . . See, I bet you’re engaging in self-pity right now, aren’t you? Look, there’s nothing wrong with thinking, and you’re known as an intelligent guy. Just, stop thinking about things you can’t control. Just go with the flow. People like that; GIRLS like that. . . .’
Thanks for the emphasis.
‘ . . . So anyway, stop reading this note and get back to your life. Oh . . . and vacuum your bloody carpet!’
I process the note for the briefest of moments, then scrunch it up and pitch it into the trash. The housemate reappears, ‘What did it say?’ The cheeky bastard, as if he didn’t read it; I would’ve.
‘Doesn’t matter,’ I lie, ‘I’m heading down to Blockbuster for some dodgy entertainment.’ He nods. I may not be the wisest motherfucker, but when a strange, gorgeous redhead screws you, then gives you life-advice, you bloody-well listen.

Storm Water – Part Two of Two

Fishing and surfing

‘G’day Jess,’ Tom grinned, almost as if nothing had happened, and despite the dull ache in his skull.
‘I can’t believe you went out there again. And alone!’ she replied.
‘It’s alright, babe,’ he reassured, dropping his board. ‘I’m still in one piece, as you can see.’ He patted himself down for effect. Suddenly she threw herself at and her arms around him, knocking them both into the water. ‘Woah!’ Tom said, surprised and coughing while trying to keep his head above water. ‘Are you trying to drown me so soon after I came back to the land of the living?’
‘Oh, oh, I’m sorry Tommie,’ she said, raising to her feet and hauling him up at the same time. ‘It’s just, I missed you, y’know.’
‘I didn’t go anywhere, except the hospital.’
‘Yeah, but you weren’t really there, though, right? And God knows I spent enough nights there asleep by your side having nightmares that you’d never wake up.’
‘I’m sorry,’ he said, in turn embracing her. She started sobbing. ‘Hey, it’s ok, I’m here now.’ Tom rubbed her back and said: ‘Maybe we should get out of the water now, hey? You’re not really dressed for it.’
‘Yeah, sure,’ she laughed, and so did he until they collapsed on to the dry sand. ‘So – what are you going to do now?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well, you can go back to work as a chippie with your dad easily enough. I’ve got you again, finally. And you’re back to full health.’
‘Well my head still hurts a little.’
‘Yeah but besides that, everything’s almost back to normal.’
‘Except?
‘Except John, Tom. Don’t you know where he might have gone?’
He recalled the talk of Tasmania. Contrasted against the abandoned and torched car. It’s possible he had wanted to get there quickly, and flew.
‘Possibly,’ he finally said, staring at the horizon’s clouds which were changing from fluffy white pillows into the grey steel wool of two days ago. ‘But I wanted to ask: why did you leave flowers in his Mustang?’
She sighed. ‘Well, I was lonely while you were in the coma. Not in that way, you understand. Only you could have eased the absence I felt in that regard. And so many others. But I missed John as well. You’ve been told he disappeared right after you were taken to hospital? Well, it’s true. He literally hasn’t been seen since you were admitted to emergency. Since he rode in the ambulance with you. So, and I don’t care if it sounds selfish, I felt like I’d lost both of you at once.’
‘I think he might be in Tasmania,’ Tom said, suddenly.
‘Tasmania? Why?’
‘It’s just something he used to talk about sometimes. Running to family down there. If life got too much.’ He kissed her quickly, stood up and said: ‘I’ve got to go see his mum’, then started walking to the road. But then stopped, and turned back around. ‘Did you say John rode in the ambulance with me?’
‘Yeah.’
‘That’s funny: Pete said he did.’

Peter had lied. There was no doubt in Tom’s mind about it since Jessica’s candid addition to the events that day and the mystery surrounding John. Less clear was why, and what the lie concealed. Which left a choice: immediately confront him or try from potentially unreliable distance to confirm his missing friend’s whereabouts; or disappearance. He chose the latter course of action. As he approached John’s home he remembered his mother got along less well with her sister living in Tasmania even than with her abusive husband.
‘Hi Mrs Reynolds,’ Tom said when she answered the door to him and the deepening dusk.
‘Tom,’ she said, startled. ‘I didn’t realise . . . I mean, it’s good to see you’re ok. But John’s not here.’
‘I know. I came here to find out where he is. I think he might be in Tassie.’
‘Tassie? What, with his aunt? But I haven’t spoken to her in more than a decade.’
‘I know Mrs Reynolds, but he often spoke of maybe moving down here. Y’know, if he had to.’
‘Yes, I guess I do know, Tom,’ she said, mindful of the fact her husband was at the pub, and not eagerly anticipating his return. ‘But what do you want?’
‘I want to find out for sure.’
‘But I just told you I haven’t spoken to her in years, and don’t plan on starting again now.’
‘That’s fine: I’ll call her. Just please give me her number.’
Gambling accurately that John’s mother would still at least have kept the means of contacting her estranged sister, Tom sat inside the house with a steaming cup of instant coffee in front of him, and the phone dialling in his ear.
‘Hello?’ a female voice not unlike the one which had greeted him moments previously answered, from so impossibly far away.

Great Ocean Road

His heart thundered in his ears and his head felt as if it might at any moment split in half, as Tom at a sprint reached Peter’s house. It was surrounded by police tape. He kept running. A single police car outside his own house stopped him like a brick wall as he rounded the corner into his street. Then he all but crept up the pathway and into his house. Inside an officer sat nursing a cup of tea and talking in incoherent low whispers with Tom’s parents. All three became silent and looked up as he entered the lounge room.
‘Have a seat, Thomas,’ the officer said. His parents remained silent. ‘I’m Constable Rick Jeffries,’ he continued, when Tom had settled uncomfortably into an unoccupied bean-bag.
‘Why are you here?’ Tom asked.
Apparently ignoring the question, Constable Jeffries continued: ‘We’ve found your friend John.’
Tom said nothing.
‘He’s dead. A pair of fishermen found him wedged at the end of a stormwater drain leading to the river, when they noticed an unusual smell in the area.’
Tom maintained his silence.
‘We’ve also arrested your other friend, Peter.’ The officer sipped his coffee and shared a glance with Tom’s parents. ‘During the past two hours not only has he admitted to the murder of John Anthony Reynolds, he has admitted to the assault more than three months ago that left you in a coma. He has been charged with separate counts of murder and attempted murder. Also, both because I’ve discussed it with your parents and you will undoubtedly have to hear about it in court or through the local media, or both, anyway, I should also tell you he has explained his actions.’
‘What did he say?’ Tom quickly asked.
‘Firstly, I’m going to assure you that young Jessica may be lucky to be alive.’
‘Jess? Why?’
‘I’ll start with the offences,’ Constable Jeffries again evaded the question. ‘I’m aware the accused gave you what has now been revealed to have been both a false and vague account of the events that led to your coma.’
‘Yes, I guess he did.’
‘Well, most importantly, you did not hit your head on your board, or a rock. You were punched. Punched repeatedly, in fact, by the accused, of his own admission. He also told you his deceased victim was performing CPR on you that day, then phoned an ambulance?’
‘Yes.’
‘He was talking about himself, except he was not attempting to resuscitate you but continuing to assault you. Then when the deceased approached he ran away, not to phone emergency services, but to escape.’
‘John made a decision which saved your life, Tom,’ interjected his father. ‘And ultimately ended his: to keep you alive until the paramedics arrived, whom he alerted with the help of a passer-by.’ Constable Jeffries put down his coffee and crossed his arms and legs. Tom’s father continued: ‘Of course it wasn’t Peter who rode in the ambulance with you, but John. And when he had thank God delivered you alive to hospital he started walking home, exhausted, but not before he phoned Jessica to tell her where you are. It was during this walk that Peter found him.’
‘I can’t believe it,’ Tom said, sincerely, but addled by denial.
‘The accused was jealous of you, Thomas,’ the constable said. ‘We might have eventually figured that out without his detailed confession and explanation. Perhaps, also, he was jealous of your friend the late young Mr Reynolds. Regardless, he murdered him because the victim had seen the crime committed against you. We found DNA evidence in the burned vehicle formerly owned by the victim. Evidence directly linked to his murder. Arson is a third charge we’re bringing against Peter William Fitzpatrick, though it’s one he hasn’t confessed to.’
‘But,’ Tom started, and the three others in the room focused exclusively on him, ‘why was Pete jealous?’
And by way of allowing him to answer the question himself, all three hesitated.

The next morning’s sky was completely unblemished by cloud, let alone the threat of rain, as Tom walked to the beach whose particular waves he would and could never again ride. Windless, also, was the day. And swell more typically the size of that seen within a river lapped feebly at the shore. So clear was the weather the distant ocean horizon seemed indecisive about just where the sea ended, and the sky began. Carried forward more by a numb desire for movement of his body to drown out his brain than by any real present enthusiasm for life in the wake of the previous day’s revelations, he sat down beside the young woman sitting and gazing silently at the sand below the break-wall. They remained silent for many minutes, as too did almost seemingly the world immediately around them.
‘Jess,’ Tom eventually said.
‘I know,’ she interrupted.
‘Not everything.’
‘No. But enough.’ She grasped his hand. ‘I’m just glad you’re alive.’

Lonely beach

Storm Water – Part One of Two

White wash

Tom hadn’t surfed in quite a while. The last time was with his best mates, Peter and John.
‘How long have I been here?’ he said to his mother three months later, from a hospital bed. She didn’t answer. These were his first words after emerging from the coma. Simply reaching out to stroke his fringe from his forehead, a single relieved tear slid down the side of her face, out of his view. He noticed movement in the doorway. A young woman. Jessica, his girlfriend. When their eyes met she brought her shocked right hand in front of her face then darted, stifling cries, down the hallway.
‘Wait!’ he called, feebly, raising himself on his elbows.
’Shhhhh,’ his mother rubbed the top of his head. ‘She’s upset about what happened. She feels guilty about it. I told her of course it wasn’t her fault and there was nothing she could have done, but she can’t be consoled.’
Pain started thumping through his head. After lowering himself back down he sighed and, turning to his mother, asked: ‘What did happen?’
‘You can’t remember? But you know who I am? Who Jess is?’
‘No. Yes, and yes,’ he replied, turning his eyes again to the ceiling. ‘The last thing I remember was my alarm going off early. I was going surfing with Pete and John.’
‘That’s right. But you can’t remember anything after that?’
‘No. What happened?’
‘No-one knows, exactly. I got a call from Jess saying you’d hit your head and were in hospital. She doesn’t know what happened, and Peter isn’t sure either. Says you must have hit your head on your board or a rock. Though the board wasn’t damaged. And John hasn’t been seen or heard from since.’

‘We paddled out at sunrise,’ said Peter. ‘It was big and there hadn’t been decent surf for a month, so we were all a little unfit.’
‘I know,’ Tom recalled.
‘But it was a beautiful morning: the wind was light and offshore, the water was warm and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.’
‘So what the hell happened?’
‘Well your mum probably already told you I don’t really know. It was about an hour in. You took off on the biggest wave of the day. Absolutely huge. You’d already gotten some screamers so I figured your confidence had grown. I thought you’d taken off a little deep on it but as I watched it break in to shore I couldn’t see you or your board, so assumed you’d made it.’
‘Where was John?’
‘He got the next one. It was almost as big and he caught it comfortably so I turned around and searched for mine after I saw him stand up. But the set had ended.’
Peter’s boss approached the table and said he had five minutes’ break left.
‘No worries Bob. I’ll get started grinding some of those coffee beans in a sec,’ he replied. Bob nodded and returned to the cafe’s counter.
‘Where was I? Oh yeah: I was sitting there staring out at the horizon when I heard hoarse screams of my name coming from the beach. I immediately started paddling in. When I got to shore John was already performing CPR on you. I could see blood from the gash on your head on his hands. When I ran up he told me to keep working on you and that he was going to run and call the ambos.’ He sipped the last of his coffee and shook his head. ‘They turned up within 10 minutes and took you away. I rode with you. But that was the last I saw of John.’
Peter checked his watch, stood up and said: ‘Well, time’s up. I gotta get back to work.’
‘But, Pete, where is John?’
‘Your guess is as good as mine, mate. It’s good to see you out of hospital. I’ll catch you later. Let’s go for a wave hey.’

Tom hoped he might have been able to piece together the rest of the fateful morning from talking with Peter. He wandered down to the now personally infamous beach to reflect on it. Sitting on the end of the rock wall jutting out into the sea, for half an hour he hypnotically watched storm clouds gathering like steel wool offshore to the south. But couldn’t remember a thing from the past three months between his alarm going off and waking up next to his mother in hospital. He could picture Peter’s shared memories in his mind almost as if they were his own, but none of his own experiences of that day would link up with them. He looked back at the car park. John’s car was still there. A burned out shell. Someone had set fire to it before his parents could pick it up and the police were, incredibly, still examining it as part of their arson investigation. A jet-black 1966 Mustang convertible. John loved that car. Restored it himself from something not unlike how it looked now. Ashes to ashes. It was hard to believe he could have gone anywhere without it. Then he noticed a short, thin brunette woman standing beside and looking at it. It was Jess. The distance was too great for him to clearly make out her face. But it was definitely her, just standing there staring at the blackened metal. The fact she hadn’t immediately entered the hospital room when he regained consciousness was surprising, and uncharacteristic of her loving nature, though perhaps she was simply overcome by emotion. He stood up to walk over to her. Beyond the fact he loved and hadn’t spoken to her in three months, even though he was unconscious almost the entire time, she was the only other person beyond Peter, the paramedics and hospital staff who might be able to make sense of what happened to him, and where his other friend had gone. Halfway back along the rock wall, he froze: Jess had pulled a bouquet of flowers from behind her back. She didn’t look at it; just kept staring at the cooked Mustang. Tom crouched down while she lingered holding the flowers like a lost bride wearing jeans and a t-shirt. Finally, she took two steps forward, laid the flowers on the driver’s seat, hesitated, wiped her face, then turned and walked quickly away. Tom waited until he was sure she had gone then walked slowly to his own car. The pain in his head had returned. While passing his missing friend’s former pride-and-joy, he couldn’t help but glance inside. Twelve red roses.

First ocean view

‘Mum,’ Tom said, while cracking two soluble aspirin into a glass of water.
‘Yeah hon’,’ she replied while making lunch.
‘Did you ever talk with Jess about what happened that day?’
‘Well, yes,’ she said, bringing the food to join her son on a couch. ‘Like I said: it was very upsetting for her and she felt unreasonably guilty about it. We all tried to reassure her there was nothing she could have done.’
‘Who’s “we”?’
‘Well, me, of course, your father, her parents, the hospital staff; not to mention Peter.’
‘Pete?’
‘Yes, he was as much a friend to her as he was to you, wasn’t he?’
‘Yeah, I guess. And I’m glad he was there to support her.’
‘And John?’
‘What?’
‘John. He was friends with her too, wasn’t he?’
‘Well, yeah. In fact during high school they even dated for a while.’ A vision of Jess standing by the burned out Mustang holding flowers suddenly crossed his mind’s eye. He shook it away like a drawing on an Etch-a-Sketch. ‘But, anyway, didn’t Jess say anything else about that morning?’
‘I don’t understand what you’re so worried about, Thomas. You hit your head. You’re fine now. I thought you’d be more concerned about what’s happened to John. As far as anyone can tell, he simply disappeared off the face of the Earth after your accident. Thank God he phoned an ambulance first.’
‘Yeah, you’re right. It’s just that Jess hasn’t come to see me yet so I’m looking for answers wherever else I think I can find them. Pete couldn’t tell me anything of significance; even about John.’
‘Well, I’ve told you twice now about Jess’s state of mind. You should probably give her some space. And, if not, drop by her parents’ house. She had to move back there while you were in hospital because she couldn’t pay the rent on her own.’

The water wasn’t warm anymore. The swell, smaller. One of his surfing mates was working, and the other, missing, perhaps never to be heard from again. And his girlfriend was for some reason avoiding him even though he’d just come out of a three month coma. So as Tom paddled back out for the first time since the accident at that very same break there would be no-one waiting for him beyond the breakers, and no-one on the beach when he paddled in. Which was fine, really, because he had some thinking to do. And, also, he wanted to concentrate on his passion for the ocean again. He needed to clear his mind and try to remember. He recalled nobody he knew was more single-minded about surfing than John. Peter, on the other hand, was more career focused. Always busy working at the cafe and studying his final year of engineering. John never had much else going on. His father was an abusive alcoholic. His mother worked two jobs; as much for the money as a chance to get away from her home and husband. So surfing was John’s escape. Escape. Tom remembered what his friend had said many times, about what he’d do if things here became too much: ‘One day, Tom, if I finally get sick of the way things are around here, I’ve got family in Tasmania. Some of the craziest waves in the world down there. If I had to I’d just take off. Disappear. Start over again, down there.’ It wouldn’t have been surprising if he had fled south. Peter might always have been the high-achiever, but John had as many albeit different plans and dreams. He was just never in a position to be as ambitious as Peter, or even Tom. The latter decided that was indeed where his friend had disappeared to, and permitted himself to relax for the first time since waking into a world that had changed so much in so short a time. He watched the small white clouds in an otherwise clear sky resting like pillows on the horizon. He followed the sunlight playing like tumbling jewels upon the approaching first wave of the set. He caught the wave in, then sank to his stomach and rode the white wash in to shore. Where Jessica was standing knee-deep and fully clothed in the shallows.

Sunset waves