Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Wet evening - ND in progress

She stood behind the bus in a knot with the beanpole, the retro girl, and a cluster of other kids from the college next to the school. One pushed past her roughly, less of a boy than the others, but maybe it was his suit that stood out among all the jeans, his air of self-importance and his leather satchel. He placed himself on the road directly in the spot she was about to step into, as if she wasn’t there.
Only four unbroken lanes of traffic between her and the school. The cars’ lights glowed over the crest just moments before they broke the hill at speed. The streetlights, the headlights, the lights from the school, all bounced off the wet road.
The bus dusted them with exhaust as it pulled into a break in the traffic, hiding the cars on the other side of the road. In the wake of the bus, the polka dot girl made a break for the median strip. She teetered on the concrete, just wide enough for her shoes, pulling her skirt around her. The kids spilled into the empty bus zone and spread out along the lane-marking, a step back, just out of range of the rain spray from the cars’ wheels. Kate twisted her watch again. All she needed was a couple of cars’ gap both directions, big enough for a brisk walk.
The traffic lights at the bottom of the hill changed and the flow of cars on the other side stopped. The polka dot girl dashed to the far side and gave her friends a victory wave. The lights changed again, the traffic surged up the hill again. Even if he wasn’t there to see it, her face flushed thinking of the example she was setting for Ben.
She balanced the toes of her shoes over the edge of the kerb, one last look for a break. The water on the road made slippery, marbled oil rainbows. Not today, she told herself, not with the dark and the wet and the speed. She turned away from the headlights and felt her eyes relax. She started down towards the other bus stop, the one she would have been at by now if she’d only stayed on the bus.
It began to drizzle. She held her bag over her head as she trudged down the hill. The light raindrops were caught in gusts of wind and hit her straight on. She swung the bag down to her side again. She passed the next bus stop and it was empty. She could see Simon’s mum already most of the way back up to the school. As she got to the lights she twisted her watch. Too late to be early, but just enough time to be on time. Ben would be waiting for her. He was so exact in everything, it bothered him that she wasn’t. She pulled out her phone as she waited for the lights to change and started a text saying ... what? ‘Don’t explode, I’m here’?
Across the road. Be there first appointment.
She heard a screech and a thud. She tried to look where the sound had come from, up the hill but the lights of the oncoming cars blinded her. A shout and she saw a car fishtail across the lanes and speed past her. Idiot, she thought, on a night like tonight.
She banged on the button again and it gave a metallic clang. She did it once more in case anyone was taking notice. The lights stayed don’t walk, but the traffic from up the hill dried up. Wouldn’t you know it, she thought, now that I’ve walked all the way to the lights. She watched for a moment or two, and her side of the road stayed empty. She could see a break coming up on the other side. She twisted her watch, two minutes. She looked both ways twice, as if someone was watching, and made her dash.
She could see polka dot girl waiting just beyond the school on this side. So maybe Kate had made the right decision, if the girl’s friends still hadn’t made it across. The girl teetered on the edge of the kerb, leaning into the traffic, staring across the road. Her hand was over her mouth, its tremble her only movement.
A car was stopped in the middle lane, in its headlights lay a man flat out in the road, arms and legs splayed like he’d fallen backwards onto a mattress. Around his head was a dark spreading pool. Lying about a metre away, in line with his arm, his leather satchel was neatly deposited on the bitumen. Another car was stopped at a crazy angle behind the first. Traffic backed up behind them. Three, four people were standing in a loose semi-circle, oriented to the man but looking away, looking for someone to take the lead. The suit, the satchel - the man who stepped into her spot. Someone had a phone out. A woman was pumping at his chest, one knee in the shiny puddle that wasn’t mixing with the rain. Kate could tell by the way his head lay on the road, the way people stood around doing nothing but not walking away, it was for nothing. When he had stood in front of her he was cocky and an idiot, but he didn't deserve this.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Back in 2009 I put some excepts up here from a novel I was writing - Ambrosia, Pylon and Saxophone.

Those eventually became a novel - AfterZoe - which is now available in paperback and on:


Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Pantry - Hiding in the Garage - Still In Progress

There was only one place left, they had to be in the garage. She held her breath and firmly instructed the universe: they will be in the garage. It was so quiet she could hear the soft metallic clicks the roof made when the sun heated it. It was more quiet than anywhere else in the house, unnaturally so, as if the walls were holding their breath, ‘Zac? Zac? They’re gone. It’s safe.’ No sound, no movement. Sean looked around carefully. One wall was stacked with a short ziggurat of storage boxes. He looked inside the boxes of the first layer, then starting from the end nearest the door, pulled out the first row.
As he pulled out the third box they could see a dark gap in the row behind. Zac was looking up at them, crouched in front, with Ella and Liam crammed in behind him, hidden in a nook made from pushing apart two of the back boxes. Zac had a hammer grasped with both hands. He was primed, like a cat ready to pounce.
Ella burst in to tears. ‘I breathed, I couldn’t help it.’ She even cried quietly. ‘I’m sorry Zac.’
‘You can come out, it’s safe.’
Zac looked warily at Sean. ‘What happened?’
‘Some...’ Hannah could see Sean struggling to find words to convince Zac that wouldn’t scare the littlies. ‘Some people came to the front door. They’re gone now.’
‘What people?’ He held the hammer like a talisman.
‘No one. No one we know.’
‘Mum threw up.’ Sean didn’t look surprised, just tired. He looked to her for an answer.  He was spent, but he had no choice but to deal with whatever came next. His shoulders sag, he looked bowed.
‘I don’t think I’d be better this morning if it was the virus. And, I don’t have a cough.’ But what she was thinking was, too late now anyway.
Zac was wavering, he shook his hammer at Sean with less resolve. ‘You might be sick. It’s not two days.’
All three children were watching Sean. ‘Maybe, probably not.’ Zac still had the hammer, but now he was holding it self consciously. ‘And you’re standing right next to Ella, so there’s no point worrying about me.’ Zac looked twitchy and wired. He opened his mouth to speak, but was distracted before whatever was on his mind came out. He was exhausted. ‘You did a good job. You found a safe place for Liam and Ella.’ Sean put his hand on Zac’s shoulder and Zac dropped the hammer, as if he’d lost all strength in his arms. He wrapped his arms around Sean’s middle and buried his face in his clothes, like he had when he was little. ‘How did you keep them so quiet?’
 ‘We’re good at hidings. Zac said so.’ Ella’s voice was soft and solemn.
‘Is it two o’clock yet?’ Liam looked for permission from Hannah. ‘Do Daddy and Ella have to go back in the office?’
‘It’s fine.’ She grabbed Liam and Ella in a tight hug.
‘Mum, you’re squashing me.’ She let them go, reluctantly. ‘Maybe Ella’s Dad’s home now.’ Liam kept looking to Zac for cues, but Zac was still hanging on to Sean. If Liam tried hard to be helpful, then maybe everything would be normal.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Pantry - Gwen at the door - work still in progress

‘Come on Liam, just put something down.’ Daniel had his legs kicked out in front of him, his cards laid down by his side. Liam’s face was screwed up, his hand hovering first over one card, then another.

‘Give him a chance,’ said Zac, ‘He’s littler than us. Hey, Li, take your time.’ Hannah felt a little flash of love for Zac, her Zac, the Zac that reappeared two days after he was let out of his bedroom. The Zac that didn’t exactly enjoy his brother, but at least tolerated him, and looked out for him.

‘Zac, I’ve got lunch for Gwen, do you want to take it round?’

Liam played a card triumphantly. From the look on Daniel’s face, it was a good move.

‘It’s my turn, and this is the last hand.’

Hannah felt like she should insist, but she was already holding the plate, and the boys had been very helpful. It wouldn’t hurt to be flexible and take it herself. As she walked up the hallway, she thought: this is my indulgence, a gift to them they won’t know about.

Diffused sunlight hit the glass insert in the front door. The golden glow made her feel happy in the dark hallway. The shadow of the security gate made a pattern on the glass. She balanced the plate on her left hand, so she could grab the door knob with her right. She kept her eyes on the plate, trying not to let it tip too much.

As she turned the knob and pushed the door slightly, the light opened around the edges of the door. It dazzled her for a moment as she reached to grab the handle of the gate. She was just smiling to herself, thinking how nice it was to really pay attention to the small things when the gate jerked forwards, pulling her with it. She overbalanced, her hand pivoted to keep the plate flat, and she landed heavily on her right foot, just on the edge of the step. By instinct she grasped harder on the handle. She could feel it pulling against her. Her eyes started to adjust to the light, and she could see the silhouette of a person. A high pitched voice was chattering in distress or anger. For a moment her mind couldn’t integrate these inputs to make anything sensible. The unformed sensations seemed to move around before snapping, without actually changing, into Gwen. On her doorstep. Tugging at the gate. Screaming at her.

A jolt ran through her. She grabbed the handle tighter and started wrestling the gate back to the door. She still had trouble making sense of what was before her. Gwen looked just like Gwen. Hannah noticed her practical clothes were clean and well presented. She saw that her hair was neat, in its usual grey bob. She saw Gwen’s navy canvas lace up shoes, which had to be nearly new, the white rubber soles that came up a few centimetres were still pristine. But she looked at Gwen’s face, and she didn’t see despair, she saw rage. Inexplicable rage.

Hannah used the weight of her body to pull back on the gate. Gwen was much smaller than her and tugged at the gate in anger. At the end of each tug, the steady pressure of Hannah’s weight got the gate closer. And still Gwen kept up the stream of abuse, accusations. Hannah couldn’t make most of it out, tried to ignore it, tried not to think that this was Gwen, her pleasant neighbour. Gwen, someone she knew to say hi to, someone whose garbage bin she’d put away as a neighbourly gesture. Someone she didn’t know. That wasn’t Gwen on the other side of the gate.

She got the gate to meet the frame, but Gwen kept yanking, and the gate was banging, hitting the frame and jumping away again. The noise must be filling the house. She wondered why no one had come, thought about shouting out for help, but her voice would be barely audible above the racket they were already making. Sean was out the back, so if anyone came it would be one of the kids, and she didn’t want them to see this, to be part of this.

She still had the plate of salad in one hand. She knew she needed to lock the gate, but the keys were in the door, and the door had swung all the way open. She was ludicrously concerned with the salad. To reach the keys she needed a free hand, but her hand was holding the plate and the plate held the food. If she dropped the plate the food would go to waste. One whole meal gone.

The gate yanked on her hand again, and Hannah was cross, cross at being disturbed while she was trying to work this out. In anger, she gave the handle an almighty shake. The energy transferred through the handle and sent Gwen flying back. Abstractly, Hannah felt a shock that someone would treat an old woman that way. Now she was angry herself for it, angry at Gwen for her behaviour, angry at the situation, at the virus for bringing her and Gwen to this.

Gwen had spun around as she fell and grabbed at the verandah wall, saving herself from falling completely. She was on one knee, bloodied from hitting the bricks.

Hannah looked again at the plate she was holding. She thought for a split second of letting go of the gate to grab the keys. She swung her body around in hope of finding help, a solution, some form of twister that would let her hold the handle, the plate and keys in the few moments she had while Gwen was down. Zac was standing half way down the hall, quiet and still.

‘Take the plate,’ she screamed at him. He darted forward, eyes down, and took it with both hands. She twisted herself back, threw herself at the keys in the door, still holding the gate handle fast. She turned the key with a click just as Gwen got her feet.

Hannah pushed down on the handle, hard, and when the lock held, she forced herself to let go. She took a step back, regaining a metre’s distance between herself and the gate. Her hand was cramped, her knees were weak. She put her hand to her face, but she couldn’t stop it from shaking, her face felt cold and clammy. She turned her back on Gwen. Zac was still behind her, still quiet, still looking down, still holding the salad. ‘Take it back to the kitchen.’ He took a step backwards. ‘It’s ok.’ She had to force herself to speak slowly and calmly. ‘Thanks, you were a great help. It’s ok.’ Zac took off. She turned slowly to face Gwen again.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Zac in the Kitchen from work in progress

Zac was in the doorway of the kitchen, silhouetted by the weak rays of the not quite risen sun, his face lit by the blue of the light bulb. His edge was clear and solid, watching him her eyes relaxed. Yet again he took her by surprise, his slender height filling the door, his arm up lazily holding the lintel as they spoke. Her round and squidgy boy had been pulled out to a long strand.

Sean was harder to see, back a few paces, leaning away from the door and the boy, when she would be leaning towards him. Sean’s dark shape seemed solid compared to the slight, bright mirror of his son. They were saying the easy, normal, meaningless, repetitive things that had become habit and started and ended everything. Zac’s clear young voice, so light it almost blew away before she could catch it, broke through Sean’s soft low rumble. As she slid past, Zac leant closer to the doorframe to let her pass. He loosely held a piece of toast.

‘That’s not all you’re having to eat?’

‘It’s too early for food.’

She wasn’t going to fuss. She made herself a cup of coffee and drank it while she made Zac’s lunch. She kept going back to the cupboard for extra things to put in. A muesli bar, some crackers, a bag of chips. Just in case, for whatever situation it was she couldn’t foresee. She knew Zac wouldn’t eat any of them, and that in three days time the lunch bag would come back with the extra food intact. Zac hated waste, and he wasn’t too keen on junk food. As she worked she half listened to the radio, turned down low so as not to wake Liam. She didn’t care what was on the news, only what wasn’t. A new local case would have been the lead story, today all that was reported was the worsening situations in Thailand and Britain. Meaningless abstract numbers. But to the people who lived there, for them, the numbers would inhabit streets, use shopping centres. The people who lived here would be checking where those numbers had been, if they could have crossed paths. There mostly likely wouldn't be any news from China.

When Sean and Zac paused in their conversation, she found herself saying, without being aware it was about to come out, ‘Do you have your phone?’

‘Yes Mum.’

‘Is it on and charged?’

‘Yes Mum.’ A slightly impatient smile.

‘OK then.’ But she couldn’t just let him go. ‘Be careful.’

‘I always am.’

‘Do you have some money, just in case?’

Sean, leaning against the wall, swivelled to her. ‘I gave him money. Don’t fuss, he’s fine.’

‘Don’t do anything you don’t feel comfortable with.’

Zac turned back to face her, his smile wider now, and good natured, ‘I’m not going to go running around in the middle of the night, Mum. I promise.’

‘Of course not. Just stay safe.’ She wanted to tell him he couldn’t go. If she just said those words her panic would disappear. She watched his face as he rifled through his bag, checking against a list the school had given them. His face was pinker now, so alive, as the sun took over from the cold fluoro. She held herself back.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Saxophone - From Chapter 11

Something woke Zoe. She became aware of herself in a semi-conscious doze. Somewhere in her mind, something registered as wrong, and she searched for it.

She felt awkward in the bed. From the courtyard she could hear the murmur of voices, but they were not the same as those she had fallen asleep to. Her eyes were open, and she wasn't going to get back to sleep. She felt the weight of her body as she pulled herself upright.

A voice came from the bed, the wrong voice. 'What's up, hun?'

'I can't sleep. I'm on the wrong side.'

'You don't have a side.'

'You're not the right shape.'

That was what was wrong, Linden was taller than Alex, thinner and ganglier. His elbows stuck out. He took up the wrong space in the bed.

She followed the sound into the courtyard. When she fell asleep there had still been a couple of stragglers from lunch, discussing the state of existence under the stars with Nick. Their melodic rise and fall had lulled her. This was more a rhythmic wash, a pulsing hum, a backdrop.

The courtyard was empty, but the sound was coming from the grill that formed a window in the back wall. It looked out over a small path that passed behind the house. Beyond that was a steep retaining wall to the street. She pressed her face to the grill, and the sound resolved into people talking, laughing, calling to each other, the sounds of their feet and snatches of music from ghetto blasters and from the opened doors of the bars. Threaded through was a solo sax, the busker standing directly across the street, unattended to by the crowd, playing out his emotion.

She pulled the clasp that fastened the grill, pushed it open and leant her face against the chill stone of the window frame. She could hear Linden's slow dozy movement. He came up behind her, rubbed his face in the hair on her neck, crept his arm around her waist, and rested it just below her breast, slightly lower than he used to. He leaned his sleepy weight against her, and through her onto the window frame. His presence was familiar, unremarkable but dissonant. When Alex leaned against her his cheek nestled in her neck, both arms around her chest, hands cupped to the sides of her breasts. He was shorter, and filled the space behind her with more conviction.

'You can't sleep because I'm not the same shape as Alex?'

'I'm betraying him.'

'You're dead. I'm tired. Come back to sleep.'

She swivelled around in his arms, facing him. 'You look so young it's not fair. Was I young like that once?'

'No, never. You looked it, but it was a cunning disguise for your old soul.'

She put her hand on his cheek. 'So young.'

'There was a teacher I had at school. Almost as old as our mums, but way too sexy. I did so badly in her class. She looked like you do.' He leaned forward to kiss her. She turned her face away so that he grazed her with his lips. He pulled back, paused a moment uncertainly but pressed on. 'We've done this before.'

'Before so much.'

He smiled at her. She felt her neck unaccustomedly craned back to look him in the eye as he spoke to her. 'It's just a touch. What's wrong with a kiss, just a kiss? How can it hurt anyone?'

She was still, her back against the window. To move toward Linden or away was to initiate a betrayal. She didn't want to choose.

'Did this come up with Alex? After all, you've got a child, there must have been physical contact. Did you worry about me then?'

'You were dead.'

'And now you're dead.'

'But I know, don't I. And Alex will know.'

He pulled further back from her, one hand in her hair, the other on her waist, their hips and legs still touching. He looked at her a long time, and once she would have given in to his implied failure of coolness, but now she felt only the certainty that she was the grown-up. She took his hand and untangled it from her hair. He let the other drop from her side. 'So why did you look me up then, just to chat about how great it all was?'

'Go back to bed Linden'

'Not without you.'

She disengaged from him, but felt a physical ache as she walked across the courtyard, out of the house. 

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Pylon - From Chapter 1

Her foot was braced to the floor where the brake would have been, and she realised that through the metal she could feel the vibration of Alex pumping the brakes, but with no effect. The road turned slightly, but the car slid on straight ahead, across the lane, narrowly missing the bumper of the car in front. They were heading inexorably towards an overpass held up by a pylon in the median strip. She felt herself leaning forward, as if willing the car on just a little bit to miss it. Shock ran through her, like a physical jolt. Hitting the pylon wasn’t the problem. Not hitting it would put them over the median strip and into the oncoming cars. With a sense of inevitability the car glided gracefully by the pylon. The front of the car lifted on the bump. She was aware of the quiet, the look of surprise and concentration on Alex’s face. She could see him thinking through his options, gripping the wheel in frustration.

The moments before the crash seemed to unfold so methodically, so peacefully, that Alex was bewildered he didn’t register the noise and jolt of the impact. He found himself sitting there, spun around and back to the pole, watching the tail lights of the car that had hit them wobble for a few metres and stop. He was aware of his voice in his head, thinking that the pole hit the back of the car. He looked back to see Liam’s seat enfolded in the door, which was wrapped around the pole. His breathing stopped. That could have been Liam, that could have been Liam. He was startled when a car to the left crossed his eye line, swerving to avoid the car in front sticking out into the lane.

He saw a man jump, almost tumble out of the stopped car ahead. The man righted himself, and stared frozen for a moment. He saw the man start forward, stop, run back to the car and reach inside, talking to someone. A shaky hand passed out a mobile phone. It seemed to slip through the man’s hands. He leaned down, and still half-crouched was pushing at the buttons. The man was yelling into the phone. Alex couldn’t hear it, he could only hear the sound of his breathing and the blood beating. Even the music sounded distant and tinny.

His hands were still gripping tight to the wheel. He heard a voice that almost sounded like his, saying ‘We made it. We made it.’ He could see the bonnet, his door. From nowhere someone rapped against the window. Even the glass in his window was unbroken. He could barely hear the shout. ‘Are you alright?’ He grasped the wheel harder and stared ahead. The man’s face was distorted with shouting. ‘Are you alright?’

He looked across at Zoe, wanting her reassurance that it was ok. He reached over to her. She looked too far away, but his hand slammed into her before it seemed halfway there. She was warm, wet with blood. ‘Zoe? Are you ok? Zoe?’ She didn’t seem to hear him.