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.

Ambrosia - From Chapter 2

The cafe opened late. It was busy and had a high turnover of anonymous clientele. More importantly they made everything on premises, which required large quantities of ambrosia. The manager was sympathetic, if not one of them. For these reasons, Nick was crouched in the dark and the damp behind this particular cafe. These reasons, and that they had been without a reliable supply of ambrosia for several months. That in itself meant they were short handed.

This was not the kind of task he would normally undertake himself, but Winney was pestering him with paperwork and he was bored. It was a good excuse to get out a bit. Winney objected to the risk, but that was the point. It wasn’t worth playing if you could never lose.

The door opened, he was enveloped by the orange glow from inside, the intimate smells of baking and coffee, the warm white noise of a dozen conversations. The manager stepped out and scanned the shadows with an unmistakably furtive look, finally resting his eyes on the half hidden Nick. With an air of exaggerated conspiracy, he placed two large flour sacks beside the bins. Nick leaned forward so that their eyes met. He enjoyed the role and thrilled at the apprehension in his co-conspirator’s eyes.

As the door closed, the darkness of the alley rolled back over him. He crouched still for moment, revelling in the cliché. Like a spy in a Saturday flick, he searched the darkness around him with his ears, and tried to feel it with his skin. Just as he leaned forward to grab the ambrosia, he felt, or maybe heard, something.

In one movement he grabbed a bag under each arm and sprang forward into a run. Like a kid on a dare, he felt the excitement building inside. He heard them running behind him. He pounded through the dark alleys, always turning away from the well lit main street.

One of the bags slipped from his arm and caught his foot. He kicked it forward and it exploded in front of him in a cloud of powder. He breathed a deep lung full as he ran through it. He hadn’t tasted ambrosia in a long time, it wasn’t something he needed. Although it wasn't designed for him, it still had some effect. With the other bag clutched to his chest, he twisted through the alleyways and laughed out loud. He had to fight the deep feeling of calm overcoming him, and keep running. Now there was no sound behind him. His ambrosia dusted pursuers had become content not to catch him.

He headed to the main street, the infectious sound of people, and the light. The remaining bag of ambrosia was under his shirt, pinned clumsily to his side with one arm. This was his turf, he felt safe here, even though the Angels would start looking for him again soon, even though the crowd was filled with familiar faces who might point him out at any minute. But, like him, they were satiated. They had their fill of ambrosia and lethe water, and now they were content and couldn’t remember. Who would point him out? He could only loosely hold on to his caution while he soaked himself in the life of the street.

He slowed to relish the mood. Every time he walked this street it was different, but his feeling for it hadn’t changed in hundreds of years. The danger only added to his enjoyment. He had walked it, so long ago, as master of the street, when it had been new and he had known the answers to the questions. That felt strong at the time, but now he knew it was hollow. Only this was real. This feeling of being subsumed.