Approx. 12.30am

Under the glow of the Lacoste sign, he leaned back and put his heel to the concrete wall, leather jacket meeting bumpy granules to produce a small but satisfying scraping sound. In his pocket a text message buzzed and he quickly pulled out his phone.

It was who he was hoping for.

After replying he breathed out and small tendrils of steam escaped his lips, drifting upwards and disappearing in the framed blackness between buildings. Absently, he stared across the street and allowed a certain amount of contentment to settle on his face. This was what it felt like for someone to actually want you. Nothing was shrouded. He lingered comfortably on the thought as he studied the modern, angled, architecture of the offices over the road.

A group of people his age walked by, intersecting his vision. One girl, wearing heels, caught upon a chipped crater in the footpath and stumbled. She went down to one knee and he set his posture straight to take a step forward. Then her friends reached her to take her by the arms and levelled her balance between them. They laughed it off and continued on, saying one more drink would see the night away. He relaxed and checked his phone again, noting that his ride was due in one minute.

Surprisingly the car, a Toyota Corolla, stopped directly in front of him. Enjoying the small internal smile at simple pleasures, he opened the door and sunk in. A standard greeting followed and he resolved, a little less positively, to go through the motions of conversation a trip like that normally delivered. His driver, a middle-aged man with freckles across his cheeks and hair curling out from a grey flatcap, spoke in an accent he couldn’t place. Hanging and rotating periodically, a name tag read Mayenzani. He couldn’t pretend that helped much, although it probably narrowed the options down to the continent of Africa.

Despite the drinks he’d had, he was negotiating the conversation with ease.

‘You been at it long tonight mate?’
‘I started at 6 man,’ Mayenzani replied. ‘And I’ll be going until about 4.’
‘That’s some shift.’
‘Gotta do it, it’s worth it. Once I finish here, I head over to Newtown for the late crowd.’
The younger man was momentarily distracted as the car passed a nightclub. Outside, the same group he’d seen earlier was waiting to get in. The girl who had stumbled seemed to be lecturing the bouncer, assumedly about how sober she was. He smirked as they disappeared from view and shifted his attention back to his driver.
‘You work every weekend?’
Mayenzani nodded. ‘Most but it’s okay, I’m old. How are old are you man?’
’22’
‘You’re young.’
He chuckled but then he quietened. ‘Yeah, I’m young,’ he murmured.
Mayenzani flashed his teeth, the brightness of the smile startled the youth for a second. He thought about his own occupation.
‘Do you ever feel like your job is meaningless, like your time is being wasted?’
Mayenzani looked at him then, narrowing his eyes. ‘You had a few drinks tonight my man?’
A soft exhale through his nostrils. ‘A few.’
Mayenzani smiled broadly again. ‘I guess you have to do things to keep yourself excited. Do you have anything like that?’
‘I gamble.’
‘I used to work in a big casino back home,’ Mayenzani said nodding. ‘My best buddy and I, we were waiters.’
‘Where’s that?’
‘Sorry?’
‘Where’s home?’
‘South Africa man.’
Of course, now he recognised the accent clearly. It made sense that he was happy to be in this conversation. While he considered this, ruminating on a South African biology lecturer he’d once had, the car fell silent and the radio could be heard clearly for the first time. A song he liked was playing. Bruce Springsteen crooning that he was on fire. It made him gather his phone again and send another message off into the ether. When a reply came almost immediately, he didn’t know if he wanted to grin or run away into the dark to be alone. Realising he’d become distracted again, he spoke.
‘Did you ever see anyone win it big?’
Mayenzani glanced away from the road again.
‘A few times. We even had a good time ourselves once.’
‘Yeah?’
‘Yeah man, when we finished our shifts we would sometimes have a go. We did okay one time.’
‘Why’d you move out here?’
Mayenzani didn’t answer immediately, then he turned the radio off just as a newscast was coming on.
‘I had some things I needed to get away from.’
The younger man deliberated. Mayenzani’s expression was not as rosy as it had been. But it couldn’t hurt.
‘What kinds of things?’
Again, there was a pause before a reply was offered.
‘Violent things.’
‘Ah like gangs and stuff?’ Lines in his forehead.
For a second, Mayenzani’s eyes had glazed over and he seemed caught by surprise with the young man’s reply.
‘Yes, of course. It wasn’t safe…Plus, what better place to live and spend money in man. This is a beautiful country.’
He changed down gears, slowing for a corner.
‘You’re right about that,’ said the youth. He stared at his phone screen, realising he’d typed “I’ve got a bad desire”.
‘What’s her name? Mayenzani motioned towards the device.
‘How do you kn-‘ He shrugged then and smiled. ‘It’s Helen.’
Suddenly he didn’t want to share any more than that. It was something special, something only they could know. He focused back on the former conversation.
‘It always seems like a risk, moving to a new country.’
Mayenzani didn’t push the issue, as he was concentrating on the dim ashphalt again. He had not accelerated after turning. He peered slightly forward, looking for something in a darkened street dominated by large leafy tress along the footpath.

Then he locked eyes with the veritable boy in the passenger seat.

‘We all take risks. Gambling man, that’s life.’

The car turned into a driveway and stopped. Puzzled, with a strange sensation entering his stomach, the young man looked through the windscreen at a nondescript house. In that instance he had a thought and a resolution. Something was wrong. He would not try to speak to Mayenzani again. He would try to exit the car immediately. Even that prudence wasn’t enough. Even unclipping his seatbelt with his right hand and letting his phone fall from his left so he could grab the door handle at the same time, wasn’t enough. As a foul-smelling cloth closed over his face, he had only brief seconds before he was out of it. In its last throes his eyesight saw the word “desire” still illuminated on his phone after it had come to rest on the footmat. He felt regret. She had to know. If she knew, he was okay. Why hadn’t he just said it. His eyes closed.

No other cars passed down the road, and the street stood in relative silence. A slight breeze rustling the upper reaches of tree limbs was the only sound disturbing the early morning. Mayenzani punctuated the space with the opening and closing of the car doors, the last of which was the passenger side after he had lowered his former client to the pavement. The young man regained some form of consciousness in the absence of the cloth. His eyes split open momentarily as he tried to regain his senses. Above him he saw Mayenzani take a cursory look around at the surrounding properties. Then the young man was being dragged towards the front door of the house. Feebly, he tried to wrap his fingers around the frame but another figure appeared in the silhouette of the opening and the last thing he felt was a thump to the back of the head.

The door closed then, and the street outside was unaltered. Waiting under a parked car for the small commotion to pass, a ginger cat ventured out and nimbly leapt up a tree to place itself in a safer lookout for the next time someone happened along.

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Worm In An Apple

“It takes an educated guess to see I like you little at best

and if you come here for the faces I hope you leave under duress”

Los Campesinos!

 

Behind the fog in the frames of the bathroom mirror she could almost pass as her sister, angelic with a body to die for. But when the fan cleared the blurs away she was faced with what she determined as her endless inadequacy. There was nothing misshapen about her, no flaws in her skin. She just wasn’t beautiful. She was A for Average while her sister Allison was A for Amazing. The younger one should never be superior; it was not nature’s way. Yet her parents had named her Agatha, an ugly name in her opinion, like they had expected her to be surpassed. It hadn’t taken long. Straight out of the womb Allison had possessed a magnetism Agatha would never match. As they grew, two years separating them, the differences became more pronounced. Allison had blonde hair, and everyone knew blondes were more popular, while Agatha was a mousey brown. Blue eyes on both of them but Allison’s were sky and Agatha’s were arctic ice.

As Agatha finished brushing her less than perfect teeth she noticed her sister’s toothbrush left sitting on the edge of the vanity. When she left she took it with her, shouting ‘shower’s free’ as she entered the toilet.

Allison moved through life like an elven queen. Next to where they lived a national park held hundreds of birds who would flock to the edge of the bush to call down in pleasure at the girls as they walked to the bus stop. The glistening morning mist was repelled, forming no moisture on Allison’s head and her feet levitated above the ground, avoiding the dew. Agatha trudged behind, reluctantly admiring the fit of her sister’s dress and wondering if she looked anything like that from behind. Of course not, she thought. She was straight up and down, not curved but angular. Acting concerned she told Allison there was a stain on the back of her dress. Allison swivelled around in a circle searching for it before shrugging, saying she didn’t care. She continued on towards the bus stop while Agatha stood there fuming. Allison disappeared in the mist and Agatha couldn’t help but notice the bird noises faded with her. Finding the silence eerie and feeling suspended in space by the fog, she hurried to catch up.

When the bus arrived Agatha jumped ahead of her sister to get on. It was dim within, like the morning outside, until the second Allison stepped on. The lights along the roof flickered into brightness. It happened every time. Agatha strode up the centre towards the back seat where she saw some other girls had taken up position. She settled her balance in front of them.

‘This is where me and my sister sit. You should move.’

One of the girls scowled. She was pretty and raven-haired. However, she had nothing on Allison so she should have shown more respect.

‘If Allison wants us to move we’ll move but we’re not taking orders from you.’

Agatha turned to her sister. ‘Ally, tell them.’

Allison raised her eyebrows at her sister but directed her reply to the girls. ‘It’s fine, don’t worry about it.’

She turned and took a window view two seats further down. Agatha let out an exasperated sigh and glared at the other girls before taking her seat in the aisle.

‘What are you doing?’ she hissed. ‘That’s our seat, why didn’t you kick them out?’

Allison laughed. ‘What are you so upset about? They got there first. I don’t care.’

‘Don’t you see?’ Agatha replied. ‘It’s about status. You let them do that; they’ll start to do more. Pretty soon they’ll think they’re better than us, than you.’

‘It’s not a competition Ag, and I’m not the boss of anyone.’

Agatha refused to speak to her for the rest of the trip. Instead she spent the time gazing around the bus. There were kids from other high schools spread around as well as her own. Disregarding the boys she comforted herself by confirming there were just as many people less attractive than her as there was more beautiful. In fact, she judged herself bang in the middle. In the thirty minute trip the bush grew sparse and the mist burned away and by the time they got to school everything had changed. She would have to part company with her sister. She had more dignity than to be hanging out with kids two years below her, despite how popular Allison was. It also meant she was forced to spend time with her own friends, none of who were targets for the boys but Agatha did her best to be the prettiest in the group. During recess or lunch she always saw boys of all ages working up courage to talk to Allison and the gaggle of glamour she was connected to by string. It drove Agatha to distraction and she often told stories about Allison doing disgusting things at home, hoping the rumours spread.

 

In the afternoon, Agatha decided she’d had enough of staring at Allison’s flawless bone structure as they did their homework across the table from one another. She slid her chair back and announced she was going for a walk in the national park. Allison wanted to join her but Agatha wouldn’t have it.

‘I want to be alone.’

She trekked deeper than she ever had before, striding along the track, occasionally sucking a mountain devil when she saw them close to hand. Affinity with the bush was more Allison’s thing but Agatha pushed on. She wanted as much distance between herself and her sister. Eventually she came to a small clearing on the rocky track. She noticed a route shooting off in a direction she was sure they’d never taken before. Figuring it was impossible to get lost if she stayed to the tracks, she took it. Only metres into her new journey she felt the bush close behind her back. The track was still there, trailing around a corner but the clearing was gone when it should have been plainly visible. Undeterred, she continued. The birdcalls grew louder as she walked and she took it as a good sign. Time passed, slowly or fast; Agatha couldn’t tell. She had no idea how long she’d been gone. Suddenly though, the track opened into another clearing. This one was a grass field with purple flowers growing around the circumference of a blue pool. Steam was floating upwards and she deduced the water would be luxuriously warm. Something emanated from it that Agatha was unsure how to respond to. First she was afraid, then intrigued. In all the years her family had walked this area, how had they never discovered this? Maybe it was just for her. Maybe it was her turn to be special. Lord knew she deserved something, having to deal with Allison all the time. Venturing closer, she felt the urge to submerge herself but remained reluctant. Before she could make up her mind a boring green-brown bower bird dived down into the water. Agatha gasped, thinking it would die but it exited just as quickly, emerging a shining golden and larger in size. It had become a proud and truly beautiful bird, changed forever. It flew off into the scrub, many other birds followed it. Agatha returned her gaze to the water, and to the flowers that grew nearby. She drew one to her nose and was immediately overtaken. Unable to resist she threw her clothes off and jumped in. Bliss encased her the moment she touched the surface. Warmth and vibrancy flowed through her like an electric charge and she felt herself morph. Not sure if it was dangerous to stay in too long she got out and exclaimed. She was… she was different in the most amazing way. Her breasts had become round and full. Her bum was defying gravity above her gorgeous legs. She couldn’t see her face but it felt different as well, strong and alluring. Her hair had turned a rich charcoal black. She almost screamed in delight. Gathering her clothes she rushed home, the track taking her back to the original clearing in no time at all.

When she re-entered the house Allison was still at the table doing homework. She looked up and gasped.

‘Agatha! Agatha you’re beautiful.’

‘Yeah, I am. Probably more beautiful than you now.’

‘You are. You’re the most beautiful girl I’ve seen.’

‘That’ll teach you for thinking you’re better than me.’

Allison frowned. ‘Agatha I never thought that. You’re my sister, I love you.’

Agatha shrugged. ‘Whatever. Have fun at school tomorrow when everyone is looking at me instead of you.’

Agatha headed upstairs to the bathroom, leaving Allison in shocked silence.

 

The next day everyone was certainly looking at Agatha. She caught a lot of admiring glances, and some open stares. She was feeling on top of the world until lunchtime. She wasn’t attracting as many suitors as she expected. Large groups still seemed to be forming around Allison. What had she told them? Just before the bell rang Agatha was fed up. She approached the most handsome boy she could see. She tapped him on the shoulder and smirked as he couldn’t help looking her up and down in appreciation.

‘Want to go out with me?’ she asked.

He clawed his eyes away from her body and up to her equally pleasing face. He seemed to struggle within himself before replying: ‘No.’

‘Excuse me?’

‘No.’ he repeated.

Agatha was flummoxed. ‘And why not? Look at me, I’m stunning.

‘You are.’ he admitted.

‘Even more beautiful than my sister now.’

‘Yes,’ he was forced to agree.

‘Then why won’t you go out with me?’

The boy shook his head as though she should already know.

‘Allison has always been nicer than you. She’s kind. She’s friendly. You’re not.’

The bell rang and he walked off to class.

The Lizard

Once, there was lizard. He was cold, a little dark, and slightly empty inside. Not evil, in fact he was kind of heart, but perhaps somewhat lost and lonely. He was lacking motivation, or at least he was lacking positive motivation. All his tasks he completed without a clear sense of why he was doing these things. He knew there was something missing. The world confused him and he did not know his place in it. How could he meet others that were so different to him? It was hard to comprehend. So many lizards exactly like him, and yet they were not. Nor he like them. They looked the same and they spoke the same but their minds were foreign.

A man in a suit whose sole defining feature was arrogance. I am not a violent person. I am kind, so why am I looking at you with dead eyes, hoping for your blood to be spilled? How do you see the world? How do you view those around you, if you acknowledge them at all? When the day arrives and you understand your grandeur is a mirage, my lips will move skyward.

One day, he met the sun. And it was light and it was warmth, it was everything the lizard had been looking for. The sun was joy, it filled the gaps within the lizard, filled the holes with a positivity the lizard had not felt before. He had more energy now. To the skies for all to hear he proclaimed that the benevolence of the sun could not be emphasized enough. It was brilliance and it was heat and it was illumination. The sun showed him that others could be just as good but different, and he was glad to have realized it.

He’d never seen a smile that looked so alive, and he’d only said something stupid. A smile you wished could linger longer, before you tried to raise it once more. It was nice to take time out from thinking of all the people in the world and discover only one. To wonder and learn about just one, instead of the infinite curiosity that had plagued him before. One proved to be fuller, more complicated and intriguing than many. He started to see complexity was not something he had known within himself. He was linear, they were made up of tendrils.

The sun could not always be there however. There were times when the lizard’s world would be dark again and he understood this. With the promise that the sun would return he could negotiate the quiet moments alone without losing vitality. But sometimes the absences of the sun stretched out for too long and the lizard couldn’t help but become slow, stagnant, and muddled.

Back to day-dreaming of Valhalla and red paintings on the wall. Back to examining profundity in the smallest of things. While it fascinated him it did not sustain him. Watching life taught him much, the most of which was that he wasn’t living it. So he slept as little as possible, believing quantity would catch up to quality eventually.

The lizard did not like it when the sun was distant. For him, the sun was life and the dark was not. If he spent too long in the dark and the cold, he was afraid he would fade beyond revival. He was convinced the strange things he thought about on his own were not the right things to contemplate so he chased the sun, for it was always shining somewhere. To bring it closer and move himself closer became a focus of his endeavours.

When they were near, when they touched, he was sure that moment would hold. Were his eyes saying what he wanted them to? He did not like speaking but was always told it was necessary, so now he spoke too much.

Every now and then the lizard would come across other pockets of light and warmth. They were not the sun and he was confused they held the same qualities as the sun but in smaller doses. They promised the same cures it seemed but they were not the sun and he always pushed on.

Again, he looked upon other interesting faces. Again, started musing of when their stories began but quickly lost his grip on attention when he asked, when they started telling him. He was thinking, you are human. You are wonderful. You are alien to me.

Sometimes he saw others who were totally devoid of light. They were struggling beyond what he had the capacity to imagine. He wanted to help them did not have anything to offer them. Moving within the confines of their pain seemed dangerous considering his own fragility.

Of course, each time the lizard found the sun, the sun was busy and the lizard knew this. Still, he hoped to prove a distraction, make the sun glow more brightly on him so he could grow to be something more than he was.

Locking the essence of himself away to remain accessible. Talking too much, always talking too much. Not smiling, not looking enough. There was a soul in him. There was a soul in her. How could they meet? What circumstances would bridge such a divide, when both were guarded by the head?

Eventually the sun had to intervene, telling the lizard “I cannot shine only on you, there are other things I must do. I cannot ignore my own heart’s warning.”

So the lizard was left floating in the dark wondering what he could possibly do. Was it the end of days? Was it not possible to be sunny all the time? Surely it was, if it was possible to be dark all the time?

He planned all the things they would do; the words he would say. Maybe he thought about the future too much and did not focus now? Could he have spent too little time in reality as he grew. Was his life permanently askew? He knew what he wanted but did not know how to get it. So he said he did not know, to those who asked.

Could it be that there was more than one sun in the world? He was convinced not but then he pondered those other lights. Perhaps they were suns that had not evolved yet. He was certain he did not feel comfortable with them, not like he had with the sun but if the sun was truly disconnected from him, what choice did he have but to source his survival elsewhere?

He had never bothered to search for the sun before so when he decided to he thought he’d found it the first time. He should have known you can’t be that lucky.

Acknowledging such a point was easier than accepting it but he would try.

Moving towards what society wanted felt like swimming against the flow. He did not want to be that man in the suit. He wanted to be organic and more and more it was becoming impossible to avoid being constructed and driven for someone else’s purpose.

Coastal (Full + Extended Version)

When he exhaled a deeper breath and a streetlight was near, he saw steam rise up from his mouth and disappear. For some reason he was always afraid he’d lose more than carbon dioxide, like perhaps his soul might fade away into the ether too.

Every now and then a piece of gravel would grind under his wheel and he would grimace. The tyres were always vulnerable, and him with them. He was out for a midnight ride. Black socks, black shorts, black shirt, black helmet; a sentient shadow. The bike path snaked the coastline, blurred like an analog TV picture in the moonlight. He felt like an animal on a track, nose down, about important business; quiet things no one else would ever know. All he could hear were his tyres rotating, his nostrils circulating air, and the sea pounding in his right ear. There was comfort in the fact no one on earth knew where he was in that moment. At his apartment a phone and wallet lay deserted on the kitchen table. His company was his own. His silent company.

Houses stood silent in rows on his left. In one of them there was a baby, he often heard it crying. Sometimes he stopped to listen, just to see if the parents would comfort it back to sleep. They always did eventually. Why he stopped he didn’t quite know but he felt something every time he looked towards the sound of wailing. Longing and regret seemed to swell in him, confusing his thoughts because he didn’t understand why he would react this way. The baby wasn’t crying this time and he didn’t stop. In all the houses bodies rested asleep or awake, it didn’t matter. None of them knew he’d passed by, beating out a cadence on the pedals, flying like a guided spirit to his destination.

One thing bothered him though. There was a dog, a Labrador as far as he could tell. It never came from the same direction but it always settled in behind his back wheel and came chasing after him, not barking or growling but loping along behind like a companion, as if it knew him. If he ever slowed enough for it to catch him he wasn’t sure what would happen, and he never entertained the notion. However, it upset his rhythm, made him feel hurried as he inevitably pedalled faster to lose it. Until the next time.

 

Tendrils rose off his shoulders to dissipate as he arrived at the rock pool nestled on the beach. He unclipped his helmet and started down the hill, treading the steps carefully in the dark. Halfway down he heard voices and looked up. Disappointment creased his brow as he saw two people sitting on the edge of the pool. Girls by the sound of it and as he looked closer he realised they were naked, or at least topless. They had their backs to him so he decided he’d quickly return the way he came and ride on to the next beach. Angry that anyone but him should be out there at such a time he tramped too heavily and dislodged a stone which rolled down the remaining distance of the stairs. One of the girls, in fact women around his age he noticed when they turned, spied him begin to walk away and called out.

‘Hey, you don’t have to leave.’

Holding his helmet by his side he ran his fingers through tousled hair. Although he was tempted to join them now he’d seen their profiles, he shrugged and shook his head.

‘I kind of came here to be alone.’

The same one spoke again, she had sandy dreadlocks. The other had darker hair, perhaps dyed blue. Their mannerisms didn’t strike him as being typical skinny dippers, whatever that was.

‘You’d rather be alone than share a pool with two nude girls?’

He raised his eyebrows. ‘I’m really not sure how to answer that question.

The other woman piped up. If he was being honest with himself she was stunning, the bones in her face had all cooperated, but it wasn’t what he came for.

‘Hey I think I recognise you, do you remember me?’

Now he’d heard her voice and taken a step or two closer yes he did. They’d had classes together a couple of times. He remembered a few occasions he’d not been able to stop himself admiring her.

‘Yeah I remember you.’ He also recalled she was about twenty-five, which changed his whole perspective of the situation. Mid-twenties skinny dippers were infinitely more interesting than teens. It spoke of breaking the mould, resisting the world view about what growing up meant. He’d never understood why maturity was a word that simply had to replace fun and adventure, frown upon them, and wipe them away like dusters on chalkboards. All the same, neither did he know how to let go of the pressure they had obviously chosen to release in their own lives.

‘Well come down, let’s talk.’

 

He was finding it hard to make an excuse now. They obviously didn’t care if he saw them; and it wouldn’t hurt if the other thing had to wait.

If they were comfortable than why shouldn’t he be? But for him, the intimacy of looking upon someone’s body should be kept private and exclusive. He joined them anyway. They were indeed naked. And they were beautiful. Why were they doing this to him? He felt like a predator if he looked at them and a prude if he stared away. He must have looked like he was tripping; his eyes were playing tennis in his skull. Had it become such a precondition that he couldn’t look at them without his gaze turning objective? Even focusing on their faces was distracting. The girl he knew, Blue, had a drop of water running arrow-straight down her proud nose to fall onto full lips that smiled too easily.

Dreadlocks, whose eyes gleamed with both mischief and kindness even in the dim light, smirked a little.

‘We were about to go for a swim, want to join us?’

‘Okay’. But he made no move.

‘Are you going to take your clothes off?’

He was taken aback. ‘No.’

‘Why not? You’ve seen us, it’s hardly fair.’

‘It’s entirely fair, you made your choice. You invited me down here. I don’t feel comfortable revealing myself to people I don’t know.’

‘It’s just a body, it has nothing to do with who you are’, said Blue.     ‘Except it’s my body and it’s completely a part of who I am. It affects me in so many ways. I have no relationship with you, this sort of closeness and familiarity makes me uncomfortable.’

‘If you say so, but if you ask me, there is nothing individual about a body, everyone knows what’s there.

‘I’m not so at ease with sharing everything.’

‘I suppose we have a fundamental difference then.’

‘I guess we do.’

Dreadlocks slid into the water. ‘Swim?’

He took his shirt off as Blue also submerged. She came up, hair slick, her face emanating a natural glow.

‘Halfway there,’ she grinned.

He laughed but shook his head. He jumped in and felt a lot better now he could only see a small portion of them. What they didn’t understand was he’d already forgotten what they looked like under the water, despite his initial evaluation. Immediately they became ten times more attractive again. He turned his head to look out to the open sea, wondering in bemusement what the fuck was going on right now, and would it mean anything in the long run?

‘So you don’t mind showing your nipples but it’s weird for us?’ Dreadlocks asked, bringing his attention back.

He just twitched his mouth and conceded the point.

‘Do you do this often?’ He asked.

‘When the mood takes us,’ answered Blue.

He nodded. ‘I like that, do what’s fun, do what you feel like doing. Too many people forget that.’

‘Most people would say it’s part of growing up.’

‘Yeah, but what does that mean?’

‘Who knows?’ said Dreadlocks as she duck-dived, her legs driving him to distraction as they disappeared. She came back up and continued. ‘Maybe it just means what everyone tells you it means. Maybe it only means physical change. Getting taller, fatter, skinnier, older, until you fall down, like trees. You’re probably entitled to make up your own mind about it.’

In a slight trance as he considered her words, he murmured; ‘That’s the problem, I don’t think I can.’

Blue floated away on her back.

‘So you do this all the time then?’

‘I don’t generally get naked and swim in the middle of the night, no. But I ride the track a lot. It’s like I’m the only one awake.’

‘Ahh so we ruined it for you.’

‘There’s pros and cons for everything.’

Dreadlocks was doing slow languid laps. ‘Is this illegal?’

‘You could always claim sexual harassment if they arrested you like that.’

‘But, for real?’

‘Well it’s a public pool, and you’re nude so yeah, you’re probably breaking the law.’

‘Ooh that makes it more exciting,’ grinned Blue.

He turned to look back up the hill, checking on his bike despite rationality telling him it was ridiculous to think someone would come along and steal it. He just made it out, a slight sheen on the handle bar aiding him. Standing next to it was the Labrador, seemingly monolithic as it gazed down.

‘Jesus,’ he whispered, unnerved.

‘What’s wrong?’

‘You see that dog up there, it never leaves me alone.’

‘What dog?’ asked Blue.

‘Right there by my bike.’

Dreadlocks cast a worried glance at her friend. ‘Dude, there isn’t a dog there.’

‘What do you mean it’s right th-’ but he looked again and there was nothing. ‘Oh it’s gone; you must have just missed it in the dark.’

‘I think someone has been awake too long,’ teased Blue.

‘It was there! It’s always there! Following me every night.’

‘Okay okay, it must have learnt to recognise you.’

‘Every night’, he repeated softly to himself.

The girls had moved closer together and further away from him, trying not to make it obvious. One change in the tone of his voice and they immediately perceived him as a threat. He could see in their eyes they no longer assumed he wouldn’t hurt them. Quicker than he could click his fingers he’d been made to feel like had to go out of his way to assure them he wasn’t a predator. It was one of the things he hated about the world, hated the people who did have violence within them. He couldn’t say where, he didn’t know where it sprang from. There was a lot he didn’t know.

He didn’t even want to be there.

‘Maybe I should go,’ he said.

 

They didn’t argue, the fun had left their faces. As they all ceased moving the water stilled too, like it knew to dance would be inappropriate. The girls looked younger in their doubt but he was more intimidated by them now than ever, he could feel the milling in their heads as they wished for him to leave. It was all he could do, so he did.

He gave them a sad half smile. ‘It was nice talking to you.’ He turned and lifted himself out of the pool to stand, water rushing off him but the sound of it hitting the ground was too loud so he started walking immediately. Surprisingly, Blue called out, ‘Hey, what’s your name? I forgot.’ He looked back, brow narrowed in puzzlement. ‘What does it matter? It’s the least important thing to know about someone.’

‘But it’s your name’, returned Dreadlocks, ‘You carry it your entire life, it’s part of what defines you, eventually it encompasses your experiences. People who know you see memories when they hear your name.’

He shook his head. ‘It’s a label like any other. It’s doesn’t say where I’ve been, where I’m going. It doesn’t tell you what’s inside of me right now.’

The extra distance had opened them back up, and they seemed interested in him again.

‘What’s inside of you?’ asked Blue.

His mind was made up now though. ‘I’m not sure. That’s why I have to go. I need to find out.’

He commenced his track up the hill again, hurrying to his bike. He clipped his helmet and was quickly on the seat, pedalling once again. With little resistance he moved through the comfortable night air. A voice followed, one of the girls’, asking him to wait but it was too late.

 

The next sea pool along the coast waited in mournful silence as he arrived. A children’s playground on the headland above was nothing but geometric shadows. It held no meaning without the bodies to traverse it. Settled in the calm night, the water of the pool looked bottomless. Normally when he rode he would have music in his ears and everything would take on some kind of significance. The music would show him that all the things he saw were important somehow; there was purpose to them, dignity contained in them, emotion to found amongst them. Without it, the view appeared lifeless and impersonal, like the heart of the land had gone away.

As before, he set his bike down and took the steps to the pool’s edge. Shirt off and tossed aside he sat down to put his feet in. Looking hard, he tried to make out the bottom but he couldn’t, just another unknown. For a long time, he did nothing except stare into the water, trying to process his thoughts. He was confused about a lot of things and no matter how hard he contemplated, no matter how long he stayed unmoving his feelings would not be simplified. If he was being honest, he knew it would come to this all along. For a brief moment he thought the girls might change his path, but ultimately the presence inside was too strong. It was time to see what the future held. Nudging himself forward he slipped into the water, exhaling the air from his lungs as he did so.

 

Mostly he was hoping the first sign of struggle from his body would convince him to resurface.

For the entirety of his formative years he had been trying to figure out if the world had a place for him, or if he wanted one. At times he felt so alive it was like he was a part of the earth, occasionally he felt like he came close to understanding it all, the minds of the trees, the spirits of the animals. Other times, he just felt all the sadness in the world crush down on him. The helplessness and hopelessness of millions of people in every corner seemed pointlessly cruel. And sometimes he simply felt lonely, even amidst a warm embrace.

Knowing what could be ahead of him if he found a way to get back up to the air, he was surprised when he didn’t start climbing. Instead he started to feel peaceful. Oxygen was in high demand but all he could think about was how quiet it was, how still, and how simple things had finally become. There was nothing here to hurt, and nothing to be hurt. He guessed it was like the time before birth, when everything was out of his control. A time of ultimate quiet and peace. It seemed somewhat of a solution. Suspended there, eyes closed, he could have been in space.

Just as he was ready to let go, a thought nagged at him. He wasn’t in space or the womb or any other place of isolation. He was drowning to death in an ocean pool, and in death he wouldn’t be blissfully alone either. He’d be another number without the ability to do anything. He could help no one, like the millions of helpless souls he’d be joining. Alive, he could at least have the chance to change. Perspective is one thing that can always be altered.

Up there somewhere were people who hadn’t been born yet that could be his family, up there were places of natural beauty that he could visit, up there were songs he could hear, stories he could read and watch, food he could taste, textures he could feel.

He forced his eyes open but was struggling to make his arms and legs move. Starving desperately for air, he had no idea how long he’d been under. No, everything was hurting. The pain in his chest was excruciating, he couldn’t think straight, his brain was bursting trying to make him breathe in, but that would be the end. No, no, just like most other choices he’d made this one was a mistake but he couldn’t fight it off now. He let the real darkness come just as commotion roiled the water above him.

 

He woke up coughing violently, water coming out of his mouth. He could feel grass under his back and unintelligible voices talking to him. Collapsing his head back to the ground he slowly allowed his vision to clear as his chest heaved. There was a light, from a phone or a torch, moving around. Soon, he could see Dreadlocks and Blue knelt either side of him, concerned. Something was still keeping him from interpreting them properly and he noticed another figure. Next to Dreadlocks stood a black Labrador. This time though it didn’t scare him, he didn’t want to run away. He lifted his hand, noting the animal’s kind eyes, and the dog bent and gave it a lick. Then it turned and wandered off, perhaps back home.

 

He finally managed to focus his gaze on Dreadlocks and Blue and smiled self-consciously. A boy embarrassed in the company of beautiful women.

Coastal (Part 4)

They didn’t argue, the fun had left their faces. As they all ceased moving the water stilled too, like it knew to dance would be inappropriate. The girls looked younger in their doubt but he was more intimidated by them now than ever, he could feel the milling in their heads as they wished for him to leave. It was all he could do, so he did.

He gave them a sad half smile. ‘It was nice talking to you.’ He turned and lifted himself out of the pool to stand, water rushing off him but the sound of it hitting the ground was too loud so he started walking immediately. Surprisingly, Dreadlocks called out, ‘Hey, what’s your name? I forgot.’ He looked back, brow narrowed in puzzlement. ‘What does it matter? It’s the least important thing to know about someone.’

‘But it’s your name’, returned Blue, ‘You carry it your entire life, it’s part of what defines you, eventually it encompasses your experiences. People who know you see memories when they hear your name.’

He shook his head. ‘It’s a label like any other. It’s doesn’t say where I’ve been, where I’m going. It doesn’t tell you what’s inside of me right now.’

The extra distance had opened them back up, and they seemed interested in him again.

‘What’s inside of you?’ asked Dreadlocks.

His mind was made up now though. ‘I’m not sure. That’s why I have to go. I need to find out.’

He commenced his track up the hill again, hurrying to his bike. He clipped his helmet and was quickly on the seat, pedalling once again. With little resistance he moved through the comfortable night air. A voice followed, one of the girls’, asking him to wait but it was too late.

 

The next sea pool along the coast waited in dead silence as he arrived. A children’s playground on the headland above was nothing but geometric shadows. It held no meaning without the bodies to traverse it. Settled in the calm night, the water of the pool looked bottomless. Normally when he rode he would have music in his ears and everything would take on some kind of significance. The music would show him that all the things he saw were important somehow; there was purpose to them, dignity within them, emotion to be found amongst them. Without it, the view appeared lifeless.

As before, he set his bike down and took the steps to the pool’s edge. Shirt off and tossed aside he sat down to put his feet in. Looking hard, he tried to make out the bottom but he couldn’t, just another unknown. For a long time, he did nothing except stare into the water, trying to process his thoughts. He was confused about a lot of things and no matter how hard he contemplated, no matter how long he remained unmoving his feelings would not be simplified. If he was being honest, he knew it would come to this all along. For a brief moment he thought the girls might change his path, but ultimately the presence inside was too strong. It was time to see what the future held. Nudging himself forward he slipped into the water, exhaling the air from his lungs as he did so.

 

Mostly he was hoping the first sign of struggle from his body would convince him to resurface.

For the entirety of his formative years he had been trying to figure out if the world had a place for him, or if he wanted one. At times he felt so alive it was like he was a part of the earth, occasionally he felt like he came close to understanding it all, the minds of the trees, the characters of the animals, the motivations of the weather. Other times, he just felt all the sadness in the world crush down on him. The helplessness and hopelessness of millions of people in every corner of every country seemed pointlessly cruel. And sometimes he simply felt lonely, even amidst a warm embrace.

Knowing what could be ahead of him if he found a way to get back up to the air, he was surprised when he didn’t start climbing. Instead he started to feel peaceful. Oxygen was in high demand but all he could think about was how quiet it was, how still, and how simple. There was nothing here to hurt, and nothing to be hurt. He guessed it was like the time before birth, when everything was out of his control. It seemed somewhat of a solution. Suspended there, eyes closed, he could have been in space.

Just as he was ready to let go, a thought nagged at him. He wasn’t in space or the womb or any other place of isolation. He was drowning to death in an ocean pool, and in death he wouldn’t be blissfully alone either. He’d be another number without the ability to do anything. He could help no one, like the millions of helpless souls he’d be joining. Alive, he could at least have the chance to change. Perspective is one thing that can always be altered.

Up there somewhere were people who hadn’t been born yet that could be his family, up there were places of natural beauty that he could visit, up there were songs he could hear, stories he could read and watch, food he could taste, textures he could feel.

He forced his eyes open but was struggling to make his arms and legs move. Starving desperately for air, he had no idea how long he’d been under. No, everything was hurting. The pain in his chest was excruciating, he couldn’t think straight, his brain was bursting trying to make him breathe in, but that would be the end. No, no, just like most other choices he’d made this one was a mistake but he couldn’t fight it off now. He let the real darkness come just as commotion roiled the water above him.

 

He woke up coughing violently, water coming out of his mouth. He could feel grass under his back and unintelligible voices talking to him. Collapsing his head back to the ground he slowly allowed his vision to clear as his chest heaved. There was a light, from a phone or a torch, moving around. Soon, he could see Dreadlocks and Blue knelt either side of him, concerned. Something was still keeping him from interpreting them properly and he noticed another figure. Next to Dreadlocks stood a black Labrador. This time though it didn’t scare him, he didn’t want to run away. He lifted his hand, noting the animals kind eyes, and the dog bent and gave it a lick. Then it turned and wandered off, perhaps back home.

He finally managed to focus his gaze on Dreadlocks and Blue and smiled self-consciously. A boy embarrassed in the company of beautiful women.

Coastal (Part 3)

He was finding it hard to make an excuse now. They obviously didn’t care if he saw them; and it wouldn’t hurt if the other thing had to wait.

If they were comfortable than why shouldn’t he be? But for him, the intimacy of looking upon someone’s body should be kept private and exclusive. He hesitated, looking out through dim moonlight trying to find the horizon. He shrugged and joined them.

They were indeed naked. And they were beautiful. Why were they doing this to him? He felt like a predator if he looked at them and a prude if he stared away. He must have looked like he was tripping; his eyes were playing tennis in his skull. Had it become such a precondition that he couldn’t look at them without his gaze turning objective?

Dreadlocks smirked a little.

‘We were about to go for a swim, want to join us?’

‘Okay’. But he made no move.

‘Are you going to take your clothes off?’

He was taken aback. ‘No.’

‘Why not? You’ve seen us, it’s hardly fair.’

‘It’s entirely fair, you made your choice. You invited me down here. I don’t feel comfortable revealing myself to people I don’t know.’

‘It’s just a body, it has nothing to do with who you are’, said the one he vaguely knew.

‘Except it’s my body and it’s completely a part of who I am. It affects me in so many ways. I have no relationship with you, so this sort of closeness and familiarity makes me uncomfortable.’

‘If you say so, but if you ask me, there is nothing individual about a body, everyone knows what’s there.

‘I’m not so at ease with sharing everything.’

‘I suppose we have a fundamental difference then.’

‘I guess we do.’

Dreadlocks slid into the water. ‘Swim?’

He took his shirt off as Blue also submerged. She came up, hair slick, her face emanating natural glow.

‘Halfway there,’ she grinned.

He laughed but shook his head. He jumped in and felt a lot better now he could only see their faces. What they didn’t understand was he’d already forgotten what they looked like under the water, despite his initial evaluation. Immediately they became ten times more attractive again.

‘So you don’t mind showing your nipples but it’s weird for us?’ Dreadlocks asked.

He just twitched his mouth and conceded the point.

‘Do you do this often’, he asked.

‘When the mood takes us,’ answered Blue.

He nodded. ‘I like that, do what’s fun, do what you feel like doing. Too many people forget that.’

‘Most people would say it’s part of growing up.’

‘Yeah, but what does that mean?’

‘Who knows?’ said Dreadlocks as she duck-dived, her legs driving him to distraction as they disappeared. Blue floated away on her back.

‘So you do this all the time then?’ She asked.

‘I don’t generally get naked and swim in the middle of the night, no. But I ride the track a lot. It’s like I’m the only one awake.’

‘Ahh so we ruined it for you.’

‘There’s pros and cons for everything.’

Dreadlocks was doing slow languid laps. ‘Is this illegal?’

‘You could always claim sexual harassment if they arrested you like that.’

‘But, for real?’

‘Well it’s a public pool, and you’re nude so yeah, you’re probably breaking the law.’

‘Ooh that makes it more exciting,’ grinned Blue.

He turned to look back up the hill, checking on his bike despite rationality telling him it was ridiculous to think someone would come along and steal it. He just made it out, a slight sheen on the handle bar aiding him. Standing next to it was the Labrador, seemingly monolithic as it gazed down.

‘Jesus,’ he whispered, unnerved.

‘What’s wrong?’

‘You see that dog up there, it never leaves me alone.’

‘What dog?’ asked Blue.

‘Right there by my bike.’

Dreadlocks cast a worried glance at her friend. ‘Dude, there isn’t a dog there.’

‘What do you mean it’s right th-’ but he looked again and there was nothing. ‘Oh it’s gone; you must have just missed it in the dark.’

‘I think someone has been awake too long,’ teased Blue.

‘It was there! It’s always there! Following me every night.’

‘Okay okay, it must have learnt to recognise you.’

The girls had moved closer together and further away from him, trying not to make it obvious. One change in the tone of his voice and they immediately perceived him as a threat. He could see in their eyes they no longer assumed he wouldn’t hurt them. Quicker than he could click his fingers he’d been made to feel like had to go out of his way to assure them he wasn’t a predator. It was one of the things that made him sad about the world. He didn’t even want to be there.

He’d planned this night to go very differently, would he have the nerve to do what he wanted now?

‘Maybe I should go,’ he said.

Coastal (Part 2)

Tendrils rose off his shoulders to dissipate as he arrived at the rock pool nestled on the beach. He unclipped his helmet and started down the hill, treading the steps carefully in the dark. Halfway down he heard voices and looked up. Disappointment creased his brow as he saw two people sitting on the edge of the pool. Girls by the sound of it and as he looked closer he realised they were naked, or at least topless. They had their backs to him so he decided he’d quickly return the way he came and ride on to the next beach. Angry that anyone but him should be out there at such a time he tramped too heavily and dislodged a stone which rolled down the remaining distance of the stairs. One of the girls, in fact women around his age he noticed when they turned, spied him begin to walk away and called out.

‘Hey, you don’t have to leave.’

Holding his helmet by his side he ran his fingers through tousled blonde hair. Although he was tempted to join them now he’d seen their profiles, he shrugged and shook his head.

‘I kind of came here to be alone.’

The same one spoke again, she had sandy dreadlocks. The other had darker hair, perhaps dyed blue. Their mannerisms didn’t strike him as being typical skinny dippers, whatever that was.

‘You’d rather be alone than share a pool with two nude girls?’

He raised his eyebrows. ‘I’m really not sure how to answer that question.’

The other woman piped up. If he was being honest with himself she was stunning but it wasn’t what he came for.

‘Hey I think I recognise you, do you remember me?’

Now he’d heard her voice and taken a step or two closer yes he did. They’d had classes together a couple of times. He remembered a few occasions he’d not been able to stop himself admiring her.

‘Yeah I remember you.’ He also recalled she was about twenty-five, which changed his whole perspective of the situation. Mid-twenties skinny dippers were infinitely more interesting than teens. It spoke of breaking the mould, resisting the world view about what growing up meant. He’d never understood why maturity was a word that simply had to replace fun and adventure, frown upon them, and wipe them away like dusters on chalkboards.

‘Well come down, let’s talk.’

Coastal (Part 1)

When he exhaled a deeper breath and a streetlight was near, he saw steam rise up from his mouth and disappear. For some reason he was always afraid he’d lose more than carbon dioxide, like perhaps his soul might fade away into the ether too.

Every now and then a piece of gravel would grind under his wheel and he would grimace. The tyres were always vulnerable, and him with them. He was out for a midnight ride. Black socks, black shorts, black shirt, black helmet; a sentient shadow. The bike path snaked the coastline, blurred like an analogue TV picture in the moonlight. He felt like an animal on a track, nose down, about important business. All he could hear were his tyres rotating, his nostrils circulating air, and the sea pounding in his right ear. There was comfort in the fact no one on earth knew where he was in that moment. At his apartment a phone and wallet lay deserted on the kitchen table. His company was his own. His quiet company.

Houses stood silent in rows on his left. Bodies rested in there asleep or awake, it didn’t matter. None of them knew he’d passed by, beating out a cadence on the pedals, flying like a guided spirit to his destination. One thing bothered him though. There was a dog, a Labrador as far as he could tell. It never came from the same direction but it always settled in behind his back wheel and came chasing after him, not barking or growling but loping along behind like a companion, as if it knew him. It upset his rhythm, made him feel hurried as he inevitably pedalled faster to lose it. Until the next time.

 

Ocean Paths

I set my bike against a pillar to rest (it always seemed glad for it), unclipped my helmet and let the straps hang as I sat down to watch the surfer’s peak and trough. I couldn’t hear anything, even the ocean wasn’t loud and the long-boarders seemed increasingly graceful in my silent gaze. Some dog owners chatted near a picnic table while their animals passed time with forced companionship. They gradually embraced it, noses twitching, tails swishing. Those sounds too were being taken by the wind as it blew away from me.

A woman caught my eye as she pulled on her wetsuit. Beautiful, fit, blonde. Another rider came by, slowed down and made it too obvious he was looking. The fabric accentuated her curves and they were hard to ignore. She headed down to the water. I wondered how cold it was, it was winter after all. The warmth of the sun was filtered with chill air but it was clear and I was comfortable in shorts and the wetsuits are designed for it.

I was curious to know if she could surf well. Why? I didn’t know anything about her. I didn’t know her name, her age, where she worked, if she studied. I didn’t know where she lived, if she had pets, if she had brothers and sisters. I didn’t know if her parents were alive or dead. I didn’t know if she had children of her own. I didn’t know if she was vegan or omnivore. I knew it was past 3, she was attractive and she surfed. I was curious to know if she surfed well. I didn’t really care though, but people have always interested me, despite how many there are. Everyone I see amazes me (some more than others). How can we all be the same yet so different? She made it out past the breakers easily, pushing out further than most of the men with smooth lithe strokes. She probably knew what she was doing. I watched a few more sets but she was still judging the conditions. I got back on my bike and started riding. I knew I would never see her again, or if I did it would be in ignorance. I would never know how well she surfed. I saw the other rider again.

He was watching the sea as well, but he was much older than me.

 

Plot Points

‘This fucking heatwave.’

Sweat itches David’s beard,

wished he’d had a shave.

Black spider kicks up dust,

dropping from his leathered arm

to crack earth’s fragile crust.

But in God we trust.

*

Only the hardy remain

but changed just the same,

withered and bowed

like  poorly assembled skeletons.

Their roots searching deeper

and deeper all the time

against a villain-less crime.

*

The heifer lays breathing distress,

overcome by weakness.

Side by side they stand looking down

thinking ‘there’s one less’.

David moves forward,

lucerne in his hand but his father stops him.

No argument, it was only ever a whim.

*

Mother lying in hospital

breathing from one-half lung.

Smoke still blown into his face

by his best mates.

Her colour runs away

like dye in the laundry.

A shame, she’s not long left her forties.

*

Family photos grown dusty

on a hospital bedside table.

(Condition in decline but stable).

A fraction of her life

held in recollections.

The rest, the parts she keeps to herself,

forever restricted sections.

*

Daughter bouncing up and down

on the bed,

endlessly forgetting the last thing she said.

All her books have a happy end

where rules of reality bend, and break.

Sees the cattle’s ribs, tells her daddy

sees the dogs ribs, tells her daddy they’re hungry.

*

Consoles himself,

knows they’re all in it together

holding on as tight as each other.

Natural disaster, a great leveller.

Sees a wombat dead on the road,

wheel marks over its spine.

‘Why can’t people take their time?’

*

A baby and a dog alone in a car

while the mercury surges

and a man shops,

his thoughts absent of how they are.

Glass crystal scatters

from a rock, solid blow.

Prisoners freed, muscles drained, moving slow.

*

White shirt,

blue tie,

black pants.

A slight paunch

only the arrogant possess.

‘What the fuck are you doing with my child?’

As rainclouds join the sky, come to bless.

*

David closes his eyes but he may as well be looking directly at the sun. His vision swims with red as rage fires out into every nerve ending. A ringing starts up in his ears, blocking all other noise out. He opens his eyes and hits the man in the jaw, knocking him down. As the man tries to rise David grabs his shirt and punches him again, breaking his nose in a burst of blood. The man is helpless and David hits him again. He could kill him. He wants to. He wants to keep hitting and hammering away until the man’s body is mush, until his soul is gone. The man’s very existence is tearing at the fabric which keeps David believing everything is going to be okay. He is dragged off before he can do too much damage. Although three fury-filled hits have been enough to leave the man in a mess. Nose squashed, lips split, darkening eyes, a broken jaw to round it out. Whether it was because of the commotion or he was still feeling ill, the baby boy is crying again and David can’t help thinking, looking at screwed-up anguished eyes, he’s made a terrible mistake.