Wednesday, December 31, 2008


“Don’t look so sullen,” said Yvette. “I kill fish for a living. And whatever bait I’m using. Which is, essentially, two deaths for the price of one.” She had managed to untangle the fishing line; she looped it around her hand and placed it, in a neat circular coil, back in her lap.

I was shocked and yet calmed by her matter-of-factness. “I killed someone yesterday,” I said.

“Really.” Yvette’s face didn’t move an inch.

“Well, I didn’t kill them. They got killed because of me.”

“Why was he killed?”

I thought about this. “I had to send a rather important message. And that’s about the best way to get noticed.

“So what are you searching for that’s so important people get killed for it?”

I looked at her. “It’s not a what, it’s a whom. I’m trying to find someone very elusive.”

“Are they good at hiding?”

“Better than that,” I said, “they’re dead.”

Yvette smiled, her sunshine smile. She said, “You don’t do things by half, do you.”

That’s when I felt it, not the rosy head-wound of love—as my fizzing brain first computed— but a real warty whack on the back of my head that stunned me for a moment before pain screamed in and my indignation was replaced by a death-drop of memory and a frictionless struggle through air. Too late, cried my head, too late. The expert noises of fear were next: icicles grew shrieking in my chest and before I knew it my lungs had filled with freezing water that filled me completely until I was a shimmering aqueous thing, a deep-sea creature glimpsed in obscured camera stock in some long-forgotten documentary only shown to school children who just didn’t care because they were only waiting for the lunch bell.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


“Nice night for it,” I said out into the air, hoping secretly my words might be carried away by the wind.

“Typical,” said Yvette’s voice from the end of the pier. “The one night I dress up, and here’s everyone dressing down.”

I looked down at my T-shirt and boardshorts: my Brisbane summer specials. “I don’t always wear a suit,” I said.

“Struck me,” said Yvette, “that you’re the type of person who always wears a suit.”

“Only since I was nine,” I said, “Unless sailor suits count, in which case since eighteen months.”

Yvette laughed. I squeezed my eyes. It seemed I had become a wielder of punchlines.

“So why no tuxedo tonight?” she asked.
“I didn’t have to go out to dinner with people who liked them.”

Yvette turned around. Her eyes hit me between mine, the quick cobra-strike of intensity. “It was him up on the hill,” she said, “that you were having dinner with.”

I peered back instinctively over my shoulder, looking up at the businessman’s awfully gaudy home. “Yes,” I said. “I was having dinner with him.”

“Friend of yours?”

“Not really.”

“So why where you there?”

“Call it professional courtesy.”

“And what profession is that?”

I sighed, and sat down next to her. “If you really want to know,” I said, “you’ve got far too much time on your hands.”

“Don’t know about having too much of that,” said Yvette, “but I’m curious to know, anyway. Call it professional courtesy.”

I smiled. This was what I needed to hear, more than anything else in the world. After a deep breath, I said, cautiously, “I suppose you could say I fix things.”

Yvette looked at me quizzically. “Fixing in a home handyman sort of way, or in a Godfather sort of way?”

“Okay, scratch the fixing. I’m an investigator, really.”

“An investigator. Like a detective?”

“Yes. You could say that.”

“And what are you investigating at the moment?”

I looked out over the river, where some sort of light was travelling through the darkness. A ghostly, unattached light, the prow of a boat or an unmoored buoy. I weighed up words in my head. They were all too heavy. “Yvette, I just hope you understand I do what I do as a job, and it doesn’t reflect any great personal values on my behalf. I just happen to be very good at it.”

Yvette picked up a length of tangled fishing line from her lap and began to pick at it with her fingers. “I don’t get the preoccupation with occupations,” she said. “The way we give so much weight to what people do, as if this is the only way of working out what sort of person they are. So don’t think I’m going to judge you, Julian, for whatever it is you do to earn a living.”

“I often end up hurting people, in order to get what my employers want.”

“You kill people.”

I swallowed hard. My throat felt like a razor-wire fence. “Yes," I said.

Monday, December 29, 2008


As I approached the wharf, I noticed that the flowers had been changed since the previous night. Instead of yellow flowers they were a deep purple, and instead of picking one I left them where they were. I had the absurd notion that to pick one would be to ruin the effect they had on the wharf. As I walked down the pier my eyes became accustomed to the light. I scanned nervously. I couldn’t see Yvette’s telltale hat. Then I noticed her, without the hat, sitting at the edge of the pier, with a fishing rod in hand and a purple shawl around her shoulders. She had pulled her hair back and tied it into a bun, so only a few strands scribbled their way down her neck. I became too aware of my steps creaking across the wooden planks.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


My hire car came complete with sanitary crepe covers for the plastic pad that covered the floor where the pedals were. My foot swished the stupid papery thing every time I pressed the brake. Although I could see no houses, the yellow pulse of streetlights was my constant companion. In my head, it felt like I was searching for international waters, somewhere safe and isolated from everything. Then the first signs of higher civilisation: the billboards of local upcoming industry. The houses came into view soon after: row upon row of beachfront mansions and towering apartment blocks. I turned and drove the hire car into the deserted carpark of an office block, parking it in the comfortable anonymity of the building’s night shadow.

The house with Roman columns and bodyguards was across the road and down the beach. This was where I told my wife I would be investigating some shady character. The house, in fact, contained a prominent member of local business with whom I’d had some dealings in the past. He was shady, there was no doubt of that, but I would not be the one investigating him. Beyond the house with my shady friend was a wharf where Yvette Henry would be fishing. This is where I knew my breath would give way. This was a complete compromise. This was a complete mistake. My feet started walking.

Saturday, December 27, 2008


The house was at the end of a long street. The day was darkening to a dull point, and the street trailed off tiredly into a dirt road that ran down a hill. I had led my junkie friend here, making as though he was leading me, and now we stood here at the front gate of the house like two boy scouts neighbourhood fund-raising.

“This looks like number 43 to me,” I said.

The junkie—who had insisted we stop off at a milk bar for a block of Top Deck chocolate and then eaten it all in two minutes—nodded his head at me.

“What I need you to do,” I told him, “is to get into that house and get something for me.”

Even in his sugar-addled whisky-wobbled head, the junkie obviously had some modicum of dignity; he acted taken aback by my proposal, placing his fingers delicately against his chest in an approximation of gentlemanly distaste. “I’m a, tour guide,” he said. “This, is not, part of the, tour.”

I removed a bundle of tied up fifties from my pocket and held it out in front of him. “I can’t leave any trace of myself in this house,” I said. “Understand that. If I were careful, I could do it without leaving a trace, but that would take far more time than I’ve got. I know you’ve done this before, and I know you’ll do this again. There’s another payment the same size as that one when you’ve done the job. Understand?”

The junkie’s eyes bulged. He blew out his cheeks. “What do, you want me, to do?” he asked.

I looked the junkie right in the eyes. “I need you to tell me what’s in that house. I need to you to go in there, go through every room, and tell me what you see. It’s only information I’m after.”


“Just tell me what you see in the house. That’s all I need to know. I’d say you have about 30 minutes to complete this task. Understand?”

The junkie nodded, his eyes narrowing and focusing. I knew I had picked the right man. He disappeared nimbly around the side of the house. I checked my watch, and with nothing else to do, took a walk down the dirt road.

I walked down the hill and came out alongside a series of soccer fields. People were playing on the biggest field, twenty or thirty, mostly kids. The main game was being played by a group of African guys, stripped down to their shorts, wiry brown torsos disappearing in the day’s failing light. I noticed the dark clouds above, and as if in acknowledgement, rain began to come down in intermittent shivers. A pleasant coolness hung in the air, and I welcomed the relief from a day’s heat. The only sounds were the pleasant huffs and bustles of the soccer game. And even though I knew it was imminent, I stopped in my steps, like everyone else, when a gunshot cracked open the air.

Friday, December 26, 2008


I moved further up the bar. “How much is a double whisky?” I asked the barman.

“I’ll be with you in a second, mate,” said the barman.

“No,” I said, “I mean, I’ll pay for this gentleman’s drink if you’ll tell me how much it is.”

The barman eyed me suspiciously. “You want to pay for this gentleman’s drink?”

The junkie hop-danced on the spot.

“And a pot of your cheapest beer for myself,” I handed the barman a fifty. “Keep the change.” I smiled at the junkie, who smiled back.

“Suit yourself,” said the barman.

I retired to a table with my new friend, whom I had already calculated a use for. My friend drank his double like it was water on a hot day. He slammed the glass down onto the table.

“Like, thanks, and, shit,” he eloquently said to me. “Dying of, thirst I, was.”

“You’re welcome,” I replied. “You looked like you could use a drink.”

“Well yeah I don’t, think I’ve had, one for a long, time.” He looked around the bar in quick, jerky movements. He had a head of full, healthy hair, which I found rather strange.

“You a local?” I asked him.

“Yeah local, yeah, I’m a, local that’s, me.”

“So you’d know your way around?”

“Sure, do sure do.”

“That’s great,” I lent forward in my seat, peering into his rimless eyes. “I’m new to this place. I’m a tourist. I just feel like I need someone to show me around the place.”

“Like, yeah, like a, guide.”

I slapped my head. “That’s exactly what I mean. A guide! My friend, you are switched on. You are really with it.”

The junkie grinned. “Switched, on.”

“Exactly.” I let some silence sway between us. “You wouldn’t be doing anything this afternoon, would you?”

The junkie considered this for a moment. I took the opportunity to take out my billfold and flip absentmindedly through my cash. “I think, I’m, free,” said the junkie eventually. “Think, I’m free.”

I rubbed my chin. “Not that I would want to impose,” I said, “but you wouldn’t be able to show me around Stone’s Corner would you? Maybe take me up to Greenslopes?” While the junkie processed this, I laid my billfold on the table. “I’d pay you, of course,” I said.

The junkie cracked his knuckles with a surprisingly quick movement. “Welcome, aboard,” he said, “the grand tour.”

Thursday, December 25, 2008


I came out of the hallway and into a proper heads-down rough-hops bar with a wonky stage at the back and a games room attached behind glass doors to my right. All the patrons were at least thirty years older than the polo shirt crowd in the front bar. I threw my beer—gilt-edged schooner and all—behind a blackened pot plant that looked like it could use a drink, and approached the bar. A proper ugly barman stood looking suspiciously at some change in his hand. His head was like an egg, buried deep in the dough of his pudgy shoulders. He grumbled under his breath.

“I don’t know where you think you are,” he said, “but this amount of money does not buy a double whisky in this country.”

I sensed a squirming presence to my right. A junkie with a camel skin vest and train-wrecks for eyes pulled at his arms like they were slumping stockings. He said, “That’s the, right change. It, is the right, change.” Slowing and speeding his sentences. My eyes snagged on the junkie’s face.

The barman—whose stocking-armed-junkie count was probably in the mid thousands—looked nonplussed. “I need the right amount of money in order to pour you a double whisky,” he said flatly, “otherwise the basis of modern economics will collapse in on itself.”

The junkie seemed to consider this for a moment. The moment stretched on. “Modern, economics is, modern,” was his eventual evaluation of the situation.

I smiled. The junkie was from a photo in one of the files I had looked at, only one day before I hopped on the plane. Sometimes God dropped the roulette ball right in your pocket.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


The pub stood at the end of a strip of retail shops that featured factory seconds and discontinued lines. It was in full weekend throng, with a blustery wind shaking large shopping bags in peoples’ hands up and down the street. I watched with interest one of many pram prangs at the entrance to an obviously popular clothing shop, as bright-faced young parents collided with other bright-faced parents trying to stretch their already stretched dollars and corral their already precious time so much that they didn’t look around corners.

The pub was more upmarket than I expected. Outside, various happy groups sat baking in the sun, soaking up beer in tall glasses and letting off familial radiation. I ventured inside, where high beech-light wooden ceilings held huge fans that swirled air around. This wasn’t what I wanted. A barman was showing off, slicing a lemon in mid-air because someone had asked for a glass of water. A table of china-doll-faced polo-shirt wearers sneered at me from underneath their indoor sunglasses. I ached for dark bars where the walls breathed smoke. I sat at the bar and ordered the most ordinary beer I recognised.

“Having a day out, chief?” asked the barman, his confident bravado belied by the finger scratches at the corners of his eyes.

I looked at him, long and hard. “Just got out,” I said.

“Out of where, buddy?” The barman cleaned a dirty glass with his elbows flying.


The barman’s face fell, and the glass nearly followed. “Oh, right,” he said, before smiling nervously, caught in the customer service trap he’d set for himself. I looked away and let him move on. I cursed myself for a stupid mistake. My general dislike for pretence was not my most useful trait at times, especially not for someone who was often trying not to be noticed. I sipped at my beer, but it was in a fancy glass with gold along the top, and I began to wonder about metals poisoning. The smell of chips roused me, and my eyes followed a waitress disappearing down a sunken hallway. When she returned, the chips had been replaced by a tower of used glasses. This was better. I roused myself from the bar seat and walked down the hallway. The soft pop and warble of poker machines filled my ears, and I sensed the blue glow of pure drinking. This was much better.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Freshly showered, I took out a street directory and looked up the address Big Red Reg had given me. Southeast, on the other side of the river that snaked surreptitiously through the city and out to the sea.

I put on my backpack and took a taxi not directly to the address, but rather to a pub nearby which, my taxi driver assured me, did a fine trade in big late breakfasts—a trade in which I am always very interested. As we drove, I rehearsed characters, like an actor might. I quizzed the taxi driver on his view of local economic progress, knowing this would give me plenty of time to think without him interrupting me. He looked at me in the rearvision mirror, his dark eyes alive.

“Well, that’s the thing,” he began, as if he had been talking to me for hours before I had climbed into his vehicle, “we’ve got the second fastest growing city in the world right here, which seems strange, but then again it could very well be right, but who knows?”

I nodded absently. He had a pleasant Greek lilt to his voice, and a habit of rubbing his neck with his flat smooth fingers.

“When I came here, it was nothing,” he continued, “a backwater, this town, so I settled cheap and now look at me, part of this great thing growing.”

“What was the fastest?” I asked him.

“What was what the fastest?”

“The fastest growing city. You said Brisbane was the second fastest. What’s the fastest?”

My taxi driver made a dismissive sound with his mouth, flapping his fingers like he was feeding chickens seed. “What of it? Some place American I don’t doubt. No offence.”

He dropped me right outside the pub and I gave him a fifty-dollar note for his troubles. When he refused my offer to keep the change, I told him it was the first donation to a fund to make his city the fastest ever.

Monday, December 22, 2008


“So I was out there last night,” I said into the receiver. I rubbed my ankles against the expert starch of the hotel bed sheets. The sun came through the window and squiggled signatures of dust in the air. “He’s a big-wig, this guy. Thought I’d take a further look.” Back across the international static, my wife sighed.

“So this is another thing, now,” she said.

“Just a detour,” I told her. “It could be helpful, in the long run.”

“How much longer will it take?”

“It’ll only add a day or so. I promise.”

“A day or two?”


“But you hate water.”

“Gotta learn to love it some time. It’s got me surrounded.”

“Goodnight,” said my wife from her darkened slice of the earth.

After I hung up, I stared at the ceiling. I took a long cold shower, washing away not only the archaeological accumulation of sweat that had built up on my from only one morning outdoors, but a persistent image of Yvette Henry that had somehow crawled into my mind.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


A parade came down the street: some successfully returned sporting team welcomed home like they’d won the war that saved civilisation. Crowds I thought were window-shoppers abruptly turned, their faces were painted red and yellow, and they were suddenly chanting sidewalk tribespeople moving along with the motorcade. At the cue of the third car, I entered their procession. Walking calmly, briskly but not hurriedly, I became another set of legs in the celebration caterpillar. My mark was a man with red hair, wearing an appropriate team jersey at least five sizes too big for him, which was saying something. Big Red Reg was his moniker in certain circles.

I sidled up to him, and he let out a whooping holler decrying the domination of his chosen sports team over all others in the same competition. I followed suit.

“Julian,” he said to me, without looking at me. “I didn’t know you were in town.”

“If I’d wanted you to know,” I told him, “you would have known.”

“Clever,” said Big Red Reg. “You’re always so good with the one-liners, aren’t you.”

“It saves expending too much energy talking.”

As if to illustrate my point, Big Red Reg let out another bellow, indicating his preference, in triplicate, for being Australian.

“I need to meet someone,” I said, clapping with the crowd as another polished SUV went past carrying two more members of the successful sports franchise.

“You can meet the whole team if you want,” beamed Big Red Reg. “I can easily arrange it.”

I gave his shoulder a withering look. “If I wanted to meet neckless thugs in dark sunglasses, Reg, I would never have left home.”

“Fair enough,” he chuckled.

I left Big Red Reg at the next corner, and I walked away with an address in my pocket and the beginnings of a headache. This city was all sunrise and noise.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


The next morning, summer attacked tourists like a frantic mugger. I sat at a table in a busy outdoor cafe and watched them get king-hit, one by one, stepping from the air-conditioned lobby of a nearby hotel. The hotel’s doorman—himself exhibiting superhuman heat tolerance inside his full regal coat—positioned himself to catch each day-tripper as they fell, piling them together in a shady alcove like kindling.

I had been up before the sun, furnishing myself with cooler and more unobtrusive clothes from an all-night chain store. I sat back like a local now, acting surprised by the change in weather, but able to compensate by retrieving summer clothes from the back of my wardrobe. I wore a sun-faded singlet like many of those around me, and completed the image with long khaki shorts and cheap acrylic slides. My bare white legs hummed in the light—the only part of me that really gave the game away. I thought to myself a day might be well spent obtaining a discreet fake tan.

The remnants of last night’s fickle breeze tapped hairs on my neck. Inside my copy of the local newspaper—a broadsheet infuriatingly condescended into tabloid—was concealed a small manila folder with a single photograph taped inside it. In the photo was a man’s face, and wasn’t smiling, and he wasn’t frowning, but he had a serene look of blankness about him, unaware of the trouble he was about to cause. I was sick of this photo. It had been my only companion on a thirteen-hour plane trip, but despite my revulsion for his face, I knew I was not allowed to forget it.

Friday, December 19, 2008


I looked at her face underneath her hat and she was predictably sea-worn, lines driven into creases with salt spray air. I don’t know why, but I was expecting a hidden beauty, as I thought befitted a fisherwoman-out-of-water such as she. But she was no hidden witness, no glamouress who had turned her back on life—here was a woman that had fished for as long as she could thread a hook.

“Beautiful night,” I offered.

“And how on earth do you know that?” said the fisherwoman. “You can’t even see it.”

“I suppose that’s right,” I answered.

I spent time with her there for just over half an hour, neither of us really talking, but somehow not letting silence fall too far between us. Her name was Yvette, I discovered, and Yvette’s line did not twitch even once for the entire time I sat next to her. I told her as much about myself as I felt comfortable doing, and then I got up to go. Just as I was leaving, she turned to me and said I had a flower in my shoe. It was then I foolishly gave it to her. She smiled, and it changed her face, in the way the sun can change a horizon. This is how I drowned in love with Yvette Henry.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


I picked a flower from one of the pots that guarded the entrance to the wharf. It was a droopy, yellow thing with pulpy orange stamens, and it amused me for the amount of time it took to walk to the pier.

“Amazes me what people will use for bait,” I said, as I approached a place I knew the fisherman could hear me. His large flat yellow hat twitched.

“A fat old march fly is all you ever need,” said a voice from under the hat. It was a woman’s voice. I must admit I stepped back in surprise. And not much surprises me.

I crushed the yellow flower in my fist and, for a reason I’ll never know, bent down and stuffed it into the side of my shoe.

“They say whitebait’s on the way back,” continued the woman, “but that’s wishful thinking, and don’t you know it.”

I finger-combed my hair, and it felt as brittle as a bunch of wheat-stalks. “How do you catch a fat old march fly?” I asked her.

“Simple,” she said. “Just leave a dead fish out for him.”

I chuckled, but the effort caught in my throat. Laughter, I suppose, was about as common for me as biting my tongue. “Seems to me it’s one of those vicious cycles,” I said, squinting my eyes up, redundantly, to stare out over the blackened bay.

“Nothing vicious about it,” said the fisherwoman. “Just the same old way life perpetuates.”

“I suppose it is,” I said, then I added, “Mind if I join you?”

She tapped the spot next to her on the dock, and I sat down beside her, with my feet dangling off one edge of the world.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


It was a sweat-in-your suit night. My shoes shone and stale heat escaped from my tight-collared shirt. All I saw was white Roman columns in front of me, standing like chalk against the backdrop of a moonless night. The only human glow was my wristwatch, only two days old, humming an unlikely green from just above my cufflink.

This was the sort of night where I needed to be alone, but that was not going to happen for some time yet. The sound of whistling had filled my ears for some minutes, although I hadn’t realised this until the whistling stopped. It had come, I was fairly sure, from an old fisherman situated on a dock some way away to my left. The lapses in wind left that sort of still, dead-aired night that let sound drift out from within its usual boundaries. For wont of something better to do, I raised myself off the stone bench and went to join the old fisherman on the wharf. A religious lady, dressed head to toe in stifling silk, watched me as I passed her, and I couldn’t see anything but her eyes, and her eyes did not communicate anything new.


We all thought it was an alarm, I suppose, a warning. Heads were up and bodies roused at the mere hint of a noise, the heart somehow pumping stronger, brain snapping to attention, synapses wired open from days of waiting. We all realised, at about the same time, that it was no alarm, but rather the dry whine of an armoured car. Vehicles were rare this far in, and we all realised at about the same moment that we had panicked over nothing. We shook other old sounds into our heads: children laughing, water flowing, the isolated, vulnerable sound of an unfettered lazy breeze. None of us sat back down. We stood there, revelling in our last true feelings.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


So there is this blank page, a blank screen really—a screen's representation of a blank page, with a cursor, waiting, blinking, like a pen's sharp tap against teeth. Anything—any one thing—is better than this. Any job much more worth doing, much more pressing than putting words to a virtual page.

And there is this head cold, this one blocked ear, this pressure all down one side of a neck, as if the head would be more comfortable permanently stuck to the shoulder. A strong thumb in a pressure-point makes pain replace numbness.

And there is this job, a whirr of activity now without time for enjoyment, personality or pleasure: running out and filling up and sticking down. All these wonderful printed words that have been through so much to become captured and bound and then again expressed—they are simply sales blips, raw measurements of productivity.

But there's the hope, at least. There's always that. A page filled with workings out. That final sneeze that clears your head. A book, unknown, found floundering beneath the opiate publicity of others, picked up, with that flutter of excitement that arrives from a startling first line. And then a paragraph. And then a page. And then hope is here.

Monday, December 15, 2008


Margo’s face was coated in makeup, shimmering unnaturally from under the lamplight. Her eyelashes wept snow, purple shadows falling back sadly into her face. Ted stood as if a shadow himself, cast back in the corners of her wide room, watching. Margo sighed, pieces of her soul escaping visibly into the air.

“I’m sorry,” said Ted.

Margo rubbed the back of her thumb across her eyebrows, sending little hairs spinning into the dark. “It’s nothing for you to apologise for.” Her voice strained to hold its accent. It flickered in and out, like water lapping at her lungs.

Ted stepped forward. He held his hands awkwardly at his sides: a child in a school play, uncertain of how to stand.

“It had to happen,” continued Margo. “It took too long, really.”

“It shouldn’t have happened.”

Margo laughed, a balloon’s final choke. “Did you think it was alright, Ted? Did you think what I was doing was right?”

“I just feel—”

“You had every right to do it. Don’t feel like you didn’t.”

There was a space between them, the echoless chasm of future moments. Something that swallowed the familiar and left white gaps of uncertainty.

Margo shifted on the bed. Her camisole rucked up at her thighs; she looked at her legs, her feet, white and withered things. “I paint my toenails so often,” she said. “I’ve painted them since I was eight. That’s what happens—the colours change, but you forget what was underneath in the first place. Underneath all this—” she gestured at herself, hands flailing with desperate gravity, “—underneath all this is someone I’ve never seen. When you come right down to it, I’m not really here.”

She looked sidelong into her mirror; she put her hands to her face. “Whatever this is, it’s not real. I’ve been dead for 50 years, Ted. I’m a ghost.” A tear pulsed from her eye and ringed her cheek.

Ted sat down on the bed, its springs silently accepting him. “None of us want to see you leave.”

“How can I stay?”

Ted cracked a knuckle on his left hand. “Margo, if you leave, it’s like ... leaving a gap.”

“I’ll pay you out for the room, Ted. I’ve told you—I’ll pay till the end of the year.”

“No, I didn’t mean that. I meant, if you left ... this town has to survive—it does survive, because the people in it make it work ...”

Margo shook her head. “Ted, it’s never going to be the same now. I’m only one problem. There are gaps opening up everywhere. It’s started, and there’s nothing we can do to stop it.”

Ted looked up at the ceiling. “It’s just ... this shouldn’t have to happen to us. It’s so sad.”

Margo reached out and took his hand. “Time moves on,” she said. “You only notice it after it’s gone.”

Sunday, December 14, 2008


His forehead scaled such great heights that Kat was reminded of white cliffs, Dover, chalk dust. His hair was a small weedy scraggle of strands: anemones maybe, over-styled, definitely. He had those eyes that old fisherman had, somehow dry and yet somehow watery.

In turns, he stared at her or cleared his throat. It seemed like some private ritual, a path to nirvana tied up in nervousness. Hand folded over hand, thick blonde hairs against his leathered skin. When Kat reached out to stroke his arm, he made a small murmur, like an animal in the sun.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


We spent the night taking photos, scrawling down captions to put in later when we turned our images into a travelogues, proudly witty on a computer screen. We each had all-day tickets, or something approaching all-day. We'd spent the day on trams feeding them the wrong way into green machines that the locals didn't even seem to use. Maybe they've got microchips, you'd suggested. We'd spent an afternoon walking through the city, the permanent shade unnerving me so much that I let out an audible breath upon reaching sunshine. We found ourselves at the back of the famous markets, which had closed up for the day, leaving only palettes and forklifts playing pack-up pac-man.

Now we wander, postprandial, sort of satisfied, as comfortable as we can be in a city that isn't ours. Above, though, still the moon. Below our feet, more trains, more tracks.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


A siege, I know, is something else pursued—
A battle fall, a hostage at an end.
But what is this, if not a hopeless cause?
The personal: that castle often breached.

The structure of a self is one at odds:
Too brittle for attack and yet too thick.
The simple poison of a misheard word
is more effective than the strongest gun.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


I make a number three—curly, with flowers and shiny blue bits, and fix it to my door. It’s not one of my best numbers, but it’s by far my favourite.

It takes me six hours to finish.

Things feel heavier now that you’re gone.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Patient: Doctor, I can’t feel my legs!
Doctor: That’s because we cut off your arms.

Strange what you think of when your mind falls apart. It’s a joke you used to tell me. You used to laugh a lot, but I can’t think why. A degenerative disease. Hence the wheelchair, I suppose. I never thought to ask.

You were alone, or so they said, when you died.

There should really be a song, or a poem, for what I’m feeling now. Crouching in a hospital corridor, my shirt stiff with old sweat, letting the tears drop into my useless palms. But there isn’t. So I’m left with my own thoughts. Trying to imagine how you must have felt. How the hell you got through it.

No wonder you made your life just the way you wanted it.

There’s quite a nice funeral, and I meet some people you knew. Sounds like you were a wonderful person.

I loved you, anyway. If that makes a difference.

Monday, December 8, 2008


It used to be that I graced the open ground with a lithe speed. These days, after 5 minutes of jogging, even my breath fights for breath. The world bounces up and down with my head, squiggling the streetlamps into little signatures of light, signing off some unseen statement that condemns me to a life of running after things I can never catch.

It’s good to be alone, but it’s dangerous. In this situation, my mind begins to think for itself. I think of you, of course. How I had to close the door for you after you left this morning. How you couldn’t turn around on my front steps. How it would have hurt you too much.

I run past the houses along my stretched street, pain pummelling my ribs with broken glass stabs. I think it strange that I used to enjoy this. I get to the end of the street, where I usually turn around, at that house with the right amount of renovation and perfect modern lines. I stare for some time at the number on the gate. I made that number. But I can’t remember how.
It’s strange to come home and meet someone at your front door: you feel like you should go in and come out again, make it proper. I’m walking gingerly around the corner, holding my sides, and there’s a policeman’s blue body standing on my porch. He asks me if I am me and I tell him I am.

Had a bit of trouble finding the place, he says. No number on the house.

The policeman exhales deeply and looks into the purple evening sky. And I can tell—even before he starts to talk—that something is very wrong with the world.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


All the tints of paint have numbers, and stupid names. 123: Wattle Illusion, 79: Morpheas Azure, 337: Disgruntled Giraffe. You pick out number 293: Burnt Umber. I wonder aloud if Burnt Umber is, in fact, just the colour brown, and the hardware guy looks at me as if I have just invited him to make sweet love to me on the weed matting. You do nothing to diffuse the situation.

I’ve always imagined painting a house to be like it is in the ads: me in fresh white overalls, joyously floating a groundsheet over a hardwood floor in a shaft of sunlight, you with a scarf around your head, doing cheeky and suggestive things with a number 4 brush, and maybe a paint-splattered radio playing songs of significance.

Not only do we paint the bricks around my door, but the entire side of the house as well, with a paint that sits like sand on the knobbly concrete. It takes way too long and I’m sweaty and tired and I haven’t been to the shop for two weeks and I’m starting to think that you’re having a negative effect on me.

The next morning, after you’ve blown smoke in my face, after I’ve carried you to the bathroom and back again, you ask me to make a number for the front of our house: a number 3, curly, with flowers and shiny blue bits. I tell you that I don’t have time—I’m too far behind with work as it is. You stare for some time at the carpet. Then, with a sad look on your face, you leave the house.

It’s my first time alone since I met you.

Saturday, December 6, 2008


I’m creating a sandwich. Not just a normal sandwich. Rather, with Dr Frankenstein-like commitment, I aim for the ultimate conglomerate of tastes and textures. You wheel into the kitchen and ask why I’m still eating. I look down at my stomach: its growing roundness: and wonder the same thing.

These hands, I think to myself. These hands used to make things. Numbers. That people paid for and enjoyed because I made them so well. Where are the burns and the stains of industry now?

You, on the other hand, I have never seen so busy. Now that our house is sufficiently full of curtains and surfaces and things on ledges, you shift outside, looking at my depleted front garden, and the porch. You’re moving slower than when I first met you, but far more deliberately.

The paint’s peeling off the bricks on the doorway, you say.

Really? I’m not listening. I’ve been on the phone all morning, trying to convince my customers that their numbers will actually be completed by next week.

We should repaint it, you say. It’s the first thing people see, after all.

Friday, December 5, 2008


You’ve officially moved in, and I have to build a ramp up to the front door. It takes me six hours to finish. Things feel heavier now that you’re here.

My house—correction, our house—seems to be going through a sort of interior design puberty: an awkward transition period between my living arrangements and your tasteful decorating. And, as with adolescence, things start to appear in places they haven’t before. Except in our case, it’s throw rugs.

I really have to go to work today.


Because it’s my job to go to work.

No one’s going to fire you.

Yes, but no one’s going to pay me if I don’t fill some orders.

“ ”

You’re an expert in suggestive silence.

It starts to be that I can’t get a moment to myself. I can’t go jogging, because you say it exploits your lack of mobility; I can’t go to work, because you say it hurts you to see me leave; I can’t even watch TV, because you say you need more cigarettes.

I begin to enjoy the view inside my eyelids more and more. It’s the only thing I see between you and me.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


You’ve been hinting, in your own special way, that we should move in together. The notes on my pillow, the casually strewn paint charts, the boxes of your belongings in my living room. You’re beautiful when you’re subtle.

We lie out on the lawn and you blow smoke at the sky through your nostrils, like a dragon.

What’s your address? you say.

Why do you ask?

It’s just that you haven’t got a house number.

What’s the use? I know where I live.

It’s just strange—like you don’t want anyone to find you.

We lie in silence until it gets dark, until we start to taste the sting of rising cold.

Our relationship isn’t that different to sculpting a piece of metal. You’ve only got so much time to bend and shape it—while it’s red-hot and controlled by outer forces—before it cools and hardens, into definition, into a wrought-iron reality.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


I’ve got more numbers than usual to make this week. There’s been a backlog because I’m in love. This morning I want to go for a jog. It helps clear my head when I’m short on time. But you walk in just as I’m getting into my running shorts. I don’t realise you have your own key. I don’t realise you can do that with your tongue. What’s the harm in going one more day without exercise? I decide to take the day off work as well. The numbers can wait.

I love you, even with your smoker’s cough. Even though, when you wake, you greet your bronchial deposits before you greet me. That’s okay, because you have the most perfect smiling eyes. And you lie like royalty on my morning bedspread, the dusty light across your useless legs. And after you’ve finished your first cigarette, you kiss me, urgently and desperately. These could be your last breaths, after all.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


We’re sitting in the park, the way young people in love are supposed to. There may be ducks and breadcrumbs or wine and chequered blankets or even raindrops and tandem bikes. If there is, I don’t see them. Just me on a bench and you sitting next to me. The air seems newer than usual.

Later we have sex. That’s all there is to it. Like the word—short and sharp. No tender moments or lingering glances.

You say, We both know it’s useless to pretend it’s something more. And most likely I’ll be thinking of someone else.

You are very businesslike. You even give me a receipt when you’re done. You’re so sexy when you’re invoicing.

When I ask you about your life, you say you were born in a place with a hospital, grew up in a place with a family, were sent to a place with teachers, and then went to a place with money. You drive a Mercedes. I assume you have a job, although you never seem to work. You always put your arms around me before I can ask you anything you don’t want to answer.

Monday, December 1, 2008


I work with numbers. That’s what I do. Some people count them, some juggle them, others crunch them or study them; I make them. The finest numbers money can buy. You know that really nice house at the end of the street, with just the right amount of renovation and perfect modern lines? You know how it’s got that fantastic number on the front gate? I made that. Brass or silver or gold or whatever you want, I’ll make it for you. People often ask, Isn’t that a bit specialised? or, Yeah, but what else do you do? These people haven’t seen the numbers I make. There’s a certain feeling that comes with shaping metal with your hands. Hard to describe.

A car pulls up outside my shop. A Mercedes. Tinted windows, chrome everything, and a body so black that when light sees it coming, it looks the other way. I am well on my way to wishing the owner a life of bird shit and dwindling brake fluid when you step out of the driver’s side. Well, you hobble out, supported by two walking canes. To the boot, where you pull out a fold-up wheelchair. You wheel your way towards me.

I’m a heartless bastard, I think. I’m a heartless, cynical, awful bastard. I open the door for you.

You say something like, Thank you.

And I probably reply, It’s no problem.

You ask about the number 34, and its possible combination with others. I begin to like you more and more as the seconds go by.

These numbers are lovely, you say.

That’s what people usually say, I answer.

What do you call this one?


I thought I’d seen it somewhere before.

It’s on the Library, in town, between the two and the six.

I never knew this shop was here before.

It sneaks up on you, doesn’t it?