Simon arrives. He is like a raven to her. Black clad, liquorice whip thin, dusty in bike boots; he is incendiary, smoky smelling, his hair wiry-black, bristling like feathers, his eyes the green-black of petrol. His eyes are slanted; astigmatism makes even his most candid glance seem slanted. His fingers are tobacco stained, he reeks of cigarette smoke and hot fumes. His voice when they talk is full of ire and fire- a year’s travels to scorched places, strange dreams dreamt under tin roofs during the shear. He emits sun and dust and sparks and reminds her of the grass fires she as a child saw sweep across the suburban paddocks near her home. Over the next week she learns he’ll pull his weight. His new medication makes him hyped up, manic at times but he burns it up in hacking at the garden with saw, hoe, spade and bare hands. He needs family and home until the next job, until the medication starts doing its level best. One day she finds him squatting under the shadowing ghost-gum examining a single stem of the wild and scrubby garden. He looks slowly from the plant up at her with eyes both flat and brilliant. “Correa Reflexa” is all he says, so that she feels stupid with her mouth full of small hostessy words, and must walk quickly way. She watches him. Her nostrils quiver at his passing odour- hot dust and an acrid tang of sweat. She is appalled by how sharp her lust is, feels the tight pink whirls and coils of her cunt and labia become slick and plumped with blood. She is a creature, an animal, feels every scorching inch of skin, and feels her nipples chafe inside their soft white cup of cotton. She watches from the kitchen window; she wants, and in this rasping state of breathlessness thinks of a match dropped to arid grasslands, contemplates the power and cruelty of fire, of fucking, of this irrevocable thing that she knows must happen.
That night the three of them sit on the veranda drinking beer and wine. Simon rolls cigarette after cigarette from a pouch of Champion Ruby as he and Peter talk of the house, of their boyhood, of Simon’s future.
His voice crackles in the dark against the more soothing hum of Peter’s. Lisa doesn’t talk much, downs the cheap the chardonnay quickly and lies back on an overstuffed and leaking armchair letting Simon’s matches fall at her feet, his voice twine around her like ropes. He is grandiose, drunk, but not as she’s been left to assume, particularly mad. His meds are to help him stop counting and finding numeric solutions to simple acts; the small tablet carefully halved each day allows him to loosen a control he describes as having been so rigid it was bowing his back tight, forcing him to smoke huge quantities of the good grass always available in rural towns. He speaks of people he has known, dogs he has loved. She imagines many women he has loved too, or that have loved him with his petrol eyes and calloused hands. About them the air is heavy and sullen, leeching the dusk sky of all colour save a metallic, toxic silver green. Simon reaches in to the esky for another beer, as the ice tinkles she becomes aware of a faint stirring, of atoms trembling on the brink of some coming shift. As the leaves of the ghost gum dryly flutter on the sudden hot gusts of north wind she realizes she has been holding her breath and lets it our in a sweeping sigh.
She is drunk, twitchy, and sticky with her own sap. She rises. “ I have to go and cool off, too much wine. G’night.”
Peter grabs her hand as she brushes by and kisses it. He is soft and lovely with beer and new company. “I’ll come and scrub your back”
“Don’t, she laughs. “Stay here with Simon or he’ll think we’re a boring old married couple”
Simon looks at her face intently, for what seems an age.
“I don’t think you’re boring” He leans up briefly to kiss her on the cheek, misses and his lips catch the tender skin under he jaw. In an instant her skin communicates this thing to him, flushes against him and she knows he knows.
She runs a bath; sometimes a bath is all that will do. When she was a girl if a storm came and the house beneath the hills screamed and shimmied with the wind she would cry and thrash about all electric until her mother dumped her in a bath full of bubbles. Mum would bring in the radio and play ABC oh so soft, sometimes radio-talk would tell a spy story or a torrid romance and the eloquent Shakespearian voices would seem sensible and lulling.
Now she sinks. Into the water to expand like a sponge as the ripples loosen her shoulders and belly. The wind struggles against the violeted window glass and the house creaks and bumps. It is an old house, it breathes in air much the same way she does. If she reclines until her head floats semi submerged she can hear her own heartbeat and water slowly seeping through the plug. She lies like this for minutes, the steady drip of water in her ears like a ticking clock, dulcet, soothing.
When she opens her eyes she sees the dark shadow of him is standing in the slit of open doorway.
She brings her hand up to her ribcage, her elbow making silken eddies in the now cool water. As she touches two fingers to her puckered areola the door softly closes.
....to be continued
copyright Amanda Wilson, 2008