It’s Tuesday and I’m dropping my soon-to-be girlfriend at her place, where her parents live. She’s asking me to come in but I’m so nervous that I can’t even unbuckle the seat belt.
“Come on,” she says, trying to pull my arm out the door.
I drag her back into the passenger seat.
“What’s wrong? My parents aren’t even home.”
It’s dark out and moonlight is shimmering off her jewellery. She looks damn pretty all of a sudden, like she’s sucked all the prettiness out of the world and into her eyes. Even her house looks pretty and it’s one of these ugly Federation things, half fallen to bits, half stacked up with old timber and newspaper stacks.
“I’m not sure,” I say.
She’s looking at me.
She’s very persuasive all of a sudden. She’s telling me it’s only her cat at home, we can sit and watch TV, no pressure or anything.
My hands are gripping the steering wheel.
Her hand snakes up my leg.
“So what is it then?”
“I’m not sure.”
I look out the window and all I see is empty houses and dull street lamps.
Earlier on the date we’d seen a married couple on a wharf walking arm and arm down the aisle. Their guests cheered them on, but I felt a niggling uncertainty about it all.
I couldn’t tell her. Since then I just drove.
We’d done this complete loop of the inner city. Passed George and Bathurst Streets, passed the soldiers in Hyde Park, through the Paddington shopfronts, up and round through the East. Bondi, Bronte, it all flew by. The whole of Sydney. I was afraid if I got out the car I’d have to break up with her.
“Not sure about what?”
“I don’t know if I want this.”
“This. Now. It’s just…”
She’s crying. It happens so fast that I’m suddenly all regret and nothing else. Next, my eyes are tearing up too and I’m rubbing my arm across them trying to pretend it’s not happening. I’m remembering the first time we met and all that corny stuff.
After a while she looks over at me. “Are you sure?”
She leans across and kisses me. Hard. Her teeth bite my lip and I feel like it might bleed or there’ll be a mark.
“I don’t know.”
“Are you serious?”
“It just doesn’t feel right, you know?”
There’s a silence.
“If that’s how you feel about it.”
In a few seconds she’s gone.
I can see her silhouette framed against the backdrop of a light from the front porch, before she’s slamming the door.
I’m trying to work out if this is the worst date I’ve ever been on or if the headache is just because I’ve got class the next day.
I get home and Tim answers the door. Tim’s this inner-city hipster type, half-beat up with curly red hair. It’s large and unrealistic, like a character out of a comic book. He’s obsessed with getting the story out of me, probably because I’m looking blue as anything.
“Problem with you Cal, is you idealise women,’” he says.
He’s gone all Good Will Hunting on me. I ignore him and look out the window. There’s nothing outside but I pretend there is. I pretend I’m really, really interested in the neighbour’s tennis court. I used to play tennis for a while, so it’s plausible. I imagine hitting a shot to the upper left corner.
“Yeah, that’s it – you idealise them, you act like it’s a game of chasing and catching.”
I return a serve.
“It’s not like that at all,” I say.
I’m rushing to the base line.
“That’s it, Cal. You’ve got a problem. How many is this? Do you even remember the name of this one?”
I don’t answer. I’m in the air for a volley.
“See. You don’t even know her name and you’ve already-”
“Don’t go all psychoanalytical on me mate, you’ve got the wrong idea. Her name’s April.”
I turn to him.
Tim is standing there looking dumb, then in a flash of genius grabs a beer out the fridge. He hands me one and I shake my head.
“What is it?”
“I’m just sick of this, you know. It’s like this,” I point to the beer, “People just think they know what I want before I do. They try to help me, but their only suggestion is alcohol. I need real advice, you know? Like a mentor or guide.”
“That’s deep,” Tim says, before scratching his nose. “Hey, is it okay if I borrow the car tonight?”
“Yeah, sure. Going out?”
“Sweet, yeah, I’ve got this party on, you remember Felicity?”
I’m about to answer, but he’s already walking out the room.
I’m left alone for a minute, but it suddenly feels like I’m completely alone, like there’s no one else in the world – just a crumbling little apartment and me.
Tim’s back in the room and watching me stare into nothingness.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m just thinking. You remember you once told me about your quarter life crisis?”
“Oh yeah, it was nothing. I just had to find a good job is all.”
“Right, right. Well I think I’m going through the same thing.”
“Well I better go,” Tim says, and just as soon as that he’s thrown on a jacket and is out the front door. I can hear his footsteps as he’s walking down the drive.
The room is quiet.
Half of me wants to turn in for the night, but the other half is dimly aware that I’ll be left in a room with my thoughts for eight hours, minimum.
My head rings. I pick up the phone.
An hour later and I’m in Rhapsody, a French style club in the heart of the city that takes your mind off the world for a while. I’ve worked myself up for the night but now it’s all gone strange. I’m inside and each song is starting to sound the same. They’re all so familiar that it feels like the night could be any night or that every night is somehow the same night, and everything in between is just a dream.
I’m drinking and the buzz is making my head turn. After the fifth or sixth song I spot this girl nearby and we sort of make eyes at each other. I smile and she smiles back – this is some weird new trend in my life. In that small bit of airtime conversation she interprets something that I miss, walks over to me and starts grinding on my leg.
I’m with friends -Mike and Ray- and they both give me this arched eyebrow of appreciation.
She apologizes, says she’s drunk.
That doesn’t stop her grinding though. If anything she’s getting more into it.
I don’t know what to say. “Please leave my leg alone,” sounds prudish.
I consider whether leg grinding is something I need in my present condition. I don’t think anyone has ever gotten over their ex by getting into some good ol’ leg grinding. I could be wrong though.
“How’s your night?” I ask.
“I’m Kalie,” she says.
“Calloway,” I say.
She gives me brief eye contact, it’s flippant and unattractive, like an appraisal of a chair at a furniture store.
I’m about to say something when Mike gives me a thumbs up behind her back. He’s slobbering on his girlfriend Katherine. They do that in public because they don’t like social convention or something. They’re young and free and have sex like it’s a meal of the day.
Kalie stops just as soon as she started. She smiles at me and walks off into the crowd.
I guess my leg wasn’t good enough.
I look down at it appraisingly.
Right then I have an urge to be left alone so I retreat to the bathroom.
If I can just get away from the noise… I think.
In the stall I stare at the plastering graffiti on the wall and wish I were anywhere else in the world but where I am. A line on the wall says ‘suck my dick,’ another says ‘down with the government.’ The government has been crossed out and replaced with ‘your pants.’ A number has been scrawled next to that one.
Sometimes I think of calling these numbers, asking the people who wrote them what motivated them, question what’s missing in their lives and all that. Then I realize what they’d say and I don’t make the call. There’s nothing unique about loneliness. Not that I can tell.
I try to think of who I can call, anyone, to get some advice. I need to know what to do with my life, but there’s no hotline for that.
By now I’ve had enough of the night and decide to just go home. Outside, Mike and Katherine have vanished into the night and everyone else seems preoccupied, so I stumble back to the train station by myself.
It’s only a short walk to the station, only about five minutes, past the drunks and screaming teenagers, right under these neon lights and a line of empty houses.
It’s a walk I’ve done often but this time there’s an urgency to it, a feeling that this should be the last time – that this time I should just pack up my bags and never come back, a feeling that I should just get out of here. Maybe if I leave everything behind, everything will start making sense.
At the station I check the timetable and head to the platform.
On platform 16 I see Kalie sitting alone, crying. I’m tempted to walk over to her and ask her what’s wrong but at the same time this is a girl who introduced herself to me by grinding on my leg – I can’t bring myself to bear the awkwardness.
A part of me wants to stop and ask her if she has a way home, you know, all the things you’re meant to do in that kind of situation. Another part thinks that it’ll make her night even worse – like, ‘oh god, that’s the guy whose leg I grinded on earlier’ kind of worse.
“Please stand clear, the train doors are closing,” an announcement says.
I let the train go and walk on over.
“Are you okay?” I ask.
Below me is Kalie, crying with makeup leaking down her face.
Kalie – the crying emoticon of our generation.
Kalie’s wild. Disco wild. Out of this world wild. An unknown dimension where wild people go and don’t come back because they’ve found their place and it feels like home – that kind of wild. The kind of wild I want to be.
We’re in a taxi going down George Street in the city and she turns to me and sort of blows me a kiss, right off her palm.
It smacks me in the cheek.
She’s begging the taxi driver to speed up but he’s braking at the traffic light.
“Law is the law,” he says.
She’s pouting like he’s hurt all her feelings at once. “Spoiler,” she says.
She turns to me and dangles a hand over my shoulder. “We’re going out drinking later yeah? Night’s as young as the two of us.”
I shake my head. “I’m trying to get you home.”
“To take advantage of me?” she asks.
“No, no, you’re off your face,” I say.
“Off my face? But it’s a pretty face?”
I don’t know how to react to that, and she’s laughing hysterics.
“Great, I’m pretty, and pretty prince Calloway is taking me home,” she says.
“C’mon, tell the driver the way to yours,” I say.
“Why don’t we just drive in circles?”
I sigh loudly and the driver laughs in a way that suggests ‘I’m glad she’s your problem.’
There’s this cool silence as we look at each other.
She flicks a strand of hair over her shoulder.
“About earlier -” I say.
“Don’t worry about it.”
“I mean, normally I’d dance with you, it’s just -”
“I said don’t worry about it. I wasn’t upset with you anyway. My world doesn’t revolve around getting a guy. I just wanted to go out dancing, that’s all. I still do. Wanna go?”
I shake my head.
She turns to the driver.
“How about you?”
She’s putting on this cutesy-voice, leaning over to him in a way that could suggest anything.
“Feel like dancing mister? I’m in the mood.”
The guy looks old, verging on seventy or eighty – that kind of old. His taxi is all worn out, with dirty leather seats aging as fast as he is. I’m reading his identification photo, ‘Fanel Herbert Smith. Licensed for over twenty years.’
“No, no,” he says.
“Oh, don’t give me that. You’re a rebel. I can tell. You do drugs?”
The driver laughs. “No, no.”
“Marijuana? Heroin? You know it?”
“No, no, no drugs.”
We round a corner.
“You look like you could use some heroin,” she tells him.
He’s looking helluva embarrassed now, like he’d never think about it his whole life and he’s a priest or a virgin or eats granola for breakfast.
He’s listening to AM radio. It’s this thing old people do. My dad does the same thing, he listens to the same news broadcast about a billion times a day, says it helps the news sink into his soul. He’s super deep like that sometimes, used to be a hippie back in the 60’s. He’s terrible at life advice though. If I told him I was in a crisis, he’d tell me to forget about it. Be calm. Feel the spirit in the world.
“You dance like hell too?” Kalie asks the driver, “I can spot a dancer like me a mile away. You’re a terrific dancer, I can tell.”
The driver is waving his hands up in protest but she’s insisting he dances like crazy.
In a break, she leans across to me and whispers, “I’m gonna get us a free ride.”
“I don’t want a free ride. I want to get you home,” I say.
“C’mon where’s your fun? An hour ago we were almost -”
“The night’s almost over,” I say.
“Hardly,” she says.
“Look at the time.”
“The night never ends when I’m around,” she says.
“Stop here,” she tells the driver.
He stops and no guesses, I’m the one left paying for the ride.
Kalie knows the layout of the streets like the back of her hand. She takes me on this intricate route past apartment blocks, laundromats and this great big fountain, dark-dim alleyways, hanging birdcages and glowing light bulbs striking cool shadows onto concrete walls.
It’s not the kind of escape I had in mind.
“Where are we going? Is this the way to yours?”
“We’re going to get smashed,” she says. She says it all matter-of-fact, like it’s obvious. Then shoots me this look as if she’s begging me to disagree with her. Just begging me.
“What’s wrong with you?” I ask.
“What an assumption; all the gall in the world. Maybe nothing’s wrong. Maybe everything. Maybe everything’s bloody perfect,” she says.
“Doesn’t seem like everything’s perfect, judging by the way you were crying at-”
“Shut up Sir. Prince. This is the place.”
We stoop into a room that might as well be another world. All I see is rat-tails, broken teeth and bleached blonde hair. There are couples sweating on each other and a middle-aged man drinking beer out of a shoe. It’s like a construction worker’s version of the Playboy mansion.
“What is this place?” I ask.
Kalie just winks at me and springs to the bar.
“Two Black Russians,” she says, “No wait, make that four.”
She hands me a glass.
“God I love Russia,” she says.
“I don’t think these are actually -”
I break off as she downs a Russian in seconds.
She delicately presses a finger against another glass.
I shake my head.
“Oh c’mon. Can’t you be boring another night?”
I take the glass in my hand and take a small sip. She sighs, like all the world’s against her.
“Don’t you ever stop?” I ask.
That gets me a smile
“Never,” she says.
The DJ is playing rock music, classic hits so old that my dad would be dancing. Come to think of it, half the room look like they’re verging on half-centuries. I say this to Kalie and she laughs.
“This is Australia,” she says, looking around the room, “This is who we are. Lovely, affectionate and drunk like hell.”
She celebrates by ordering another drink.
We settle into this alcove, away from the crowd a bit but close enough to watch the dancing. I resign myself to drinking and it’s this cool rhythm between her drinking two and me drinking one, and she looking fine and me looking tipsy.
“Don’t you ever get sick of it?” I ask, “The drinking, the partying, the hype…”
I get like this when I’m tipsy. I get deep and sad and philosophical and people don’t like it. I can tell because they distance themselves a bit as soon as it starts. Their eyes glaze over like I’ve become a maths teacher and they’re the mischievous kid in the back row. I used to be that mischievous kid, so I should know.
“God you’re a light one, aren’t you?” she says.
She’s laughing at me and watching me stare into space, “I’ve had boyfriends get less deep than this, and less quickly.”
“I’m serious,” I say.
“Sick of this?” she says, raising a glass, “Not in a billion years.”
I hate her then. For all of two seconds.
We sit in silence for a while and she slurps her drink and her eyes go prowling around the room, looking for some new prey to prowl on out in the jungle.
“What I don’t get,” she asks after a minute, “Is why you came out at all if you don’t feel like dancing?”
“None of your business.”
“The world’s my business.”
“I’m living in it, aren’t I?”
“Well it’s nothing,” I say, “It’s personal, it’s a… crisis I’m having.”
She leans in close.
“I do love a crisis,” she says.
“Lay off it,” I say.
“Does it involve a girl?”
“So what if it does?”
“Tell me the whole thing in juicy little tidbits so I can trawl over it to my heart’s content,” she says.
“No,” I say.
“Oh p- ”
“Look, I just want to escape my life,” I say.
That sounds cryptic as hell and she’s looking at me like I’m James Bond 007, and I have a revolver under my shirt and the whole Soviet Army is chasing me into the Alps. I wish.
“What kind of… things?” she asks.
She’s tensed on the edge of her seat and I’m scared she’ll leap onto me or something.
“I’m not telling you anything,” I say.
“You’re no fun tonight, you know that? I could be out here with anyone but instead I’m out here with you. And you’re no fun at all.”
“Sure,” I say.
We sit in silence for a while, and I’m watching the drunk people sway and dance and gyrate. Kalie is watching me, closely. After a while she starts pouting. She’s pouting so hard that I’m scared she’ll break her bottom lip by bending it so much.
“Stop that,” I say.
“Not until the prince tells me the matter,” she says.
“Look, look. I’ll tell you,” I say, “But I don’t know why you care so much anyway. I barely know you as it is.”
“I enjoy collecting the stories of the boys I meet. Little boys and little stories – all lined up in my mind like a big boy gallery.”
“Sounds lovely,” I say; part sarcastic, part who-the-hell-is-this-girl.
“Maybe I just like meeting people. What’s wrong with that? Since when does everyone need an agenda?”
“Since forever,” I say.
“It’s hard to describe,” I say.
“Well I guess… at a certain point it just feels like we’re all doing exactly the same thing, you know?”
I’m swirling my drink round and round, avoiding eye contact.
“Dating at the right age. Taking the right job, aiming for the same thing to aim at. We’re all going in the same direction and no one knows what that direction is or where the end is. Like tonight I’m drinking, and I don’t even want to drink. Like I went out dancing because my friends wanted me to dance. At a certain point it feels so… compelled by the people around me. Like no thoughts or feelings or actions are my own. And it makes me question, who am I? Are you anyone at all, if all of your decisions are just the sum of the choices made by all of the people around you?”
“Wow,” Kalie says. She’s looking at me funny, like I’ve got something stuck in my tooth.
“You’re smart,” she says, “That’s too cute.” She sort of pats me on the shoulder. It’s a pat of commiseration, is how I see it.
“Yeah, yeah. Not really. You know what I mean? I just need a guide, someone to say if I’m making the right choices.”
There’s a long silence.
The silence stretches. I break it by turning the tables on her.
“So what’s your story then? You’re crying one minute, running around like a madman the next. Your life must be real swell right now.”
“I’d rather not talk about it,” she says.
“How’s that fair?”
“Who says I play fair?”
She lets out this giggle. It’s cute and short and mischievous by a mile.
“Tell me something,” I say.
“Well I wanted to be a dancer for a while,” she says eventually.
“Life happened,” she sort of smiles sadly and for a brief moment her craziness is shattered into fine-tuned insecurity, “You know, like when you put everything into something and you still fail.”
“There’s a certain point where you’re too old to become a dancer, as a career. I started after that point.”
“Didn’t your teacher say anything?” I ask.
“They told me to work hard. Work hard and you can achieve anything.”
She takes a drink.
“That’s rough,” I say.
“Yeah. Rough, I guess,” she says.
“Those lying bastards,” I say.
“It’s not like that.”
“See I’m tired of things like this – where you’re told to work hard and then it’s all for nothing. I get completely what you mean. I’ve had it.”
“Nah, it’s not that bad,” she says.
“Your whole career being derailed isn’t so bad?”
“Well – no,” she says.
“This is what I mean though, we’re set up for failure and then we ignore it when we fail. We blame ourselves instead.”
I realise I’m wearing this big frown and I put it away quickly, but not quickly enough.
She smiles and brushes a hand against my cheek. “Don’t look sheepish. It ruins all your features at once.”
“Let’s get out of here,” she says, “Come meet my friends.”
“I don’t know,” I say.
“C’mon. You’ll love em, I reckon.”
She’s already up and leaving the bar.
It makes no sense, but at first I think I just saw her looks, and now I see something else. Something more. I get the feeling that she might have all the answers.
“Can you get me home?” she asks.
“I think so,” I say.
We’re out and walking the street.
On the way we’re singing to people walking by, some great jazz tunes – she knows them all. Buddy Holly, Doris Day, Ed Bentley and all that.
She’s singing That’ll Be the Day and I’m so surprised by it. Surprised that she knows all this. Surprised that there’s more to her than just the dancing and the drinking. I get this feeling that it’s so easy to see the surface of people – something a friend of mine, Paolo Bigazzi said to me once – We can see the light in everyone around us, if we just go looking for it. Usually we see the plain grey surface, it’s cause that’s all we’re looking for.
I usually respond to that kind of thing with tired old cynicism and tell him the whole world is grey, along with all the people in it. But tonight, tonight it feels like there’s a whole lot of colour out there.
I ask her how she knows the song and she tells me a girl’s gotta know her tunes.
“But these are old songs,” I say.
“Can’t a girl have classic taste?” she asks.
Along the way we’re being cute and romantic and for a second it’s like we would actually have a chance together despite everything and everyone and all expectations and life.
She presses a small piece of paper into my hands.
“In case you lose me,” she says.
I stare at the number until it takes on this glow under the orange streetlights, all the ones and nines and eights, before I pocket the slip.
“One last drink?” she says, and before I know it we’re dipping into another bar. I don’t want to lose her at all.
An hour goes by and we’re back on the road.
Right outside her apartment the valet calls out, “Hey, watch yourselves.”
I look down and notice we’re about to fall off the pavement into oncoming traffic. I push Kalie away and stumble towards the building.
“Get me my car,” I say to the valet.
He tells me I’m drunk. I deny it.
“Your car isn’t even in the garage, sir,” he says.
I laugh when he says sir because I’m only twenty-one.
“It’s in there,” I say.
“No it isn’t,” he says.
Kalie laughs in his face and tells him he shouldn’t worry so much about the world.
“Get this guy to calm down,” he says.
“Get the world to calm down,” Kalie says.
Inside the clock on the wall reads 2am but it feels like 4 or 5 or later. Time is blurring together, like one moment feels like the next before the next even gets a chance to occur. I’m wondering if my escape has worked. If this is it: if this golden reception hall is my El Dorado – some dingy corner in Kings Cross where sex turns to meaning.
I celebrate prematurely and say yes and I’m dancing in my head and singing a song about finding a heart of gold. I’m wondering if Kalie knows it and I turn to her and I’m about to ask her, when she stops me.
“Wait here,” she says.
“Okay,” I say.
I follow her.
“I said wait here.”
I sit in this leather chair. The receptionist glares at me, I glare back and we share that for a while. Kalie tells me her friends will be joining us but she needs to get changed.
“Can I come up?” I ask.
“You’re a real contender Cal, but no. I’ve got a boyfriend,” she says.
“Oh,” I say.
It’s this weird feeling of jealousy mixed with confusion mixed with some other emotion I don’t even know. I’m realizing in a slow way how late it is, how I have no way home and how lost I feel and how the whole world is just a tiny speck in a universe of other worlds and how insignificant this moment is and how this twinge of pain that I feel when she says those words maybe doesn’t matter, maybe it all doesn’t matter, maybe I don’t matter and maybe I should just go home and leave the world alone for a change.
As two turns to three, Kalie’s friends arrive. Kalie is upstairs and is taking so long to get ready that I get this strange impression that she’s not coming down at all. It’s irrational but I think it anyway. Her apartment is in Kings Cross, the red light district, and the place is adding to the story I’m constructing in my head: fantasies of coke-fiends and prostitutes.
After a while my thoughts go wandering back to April and this lump in my throat. It’s that car ride again. I can’t escape it. I’m picturing back before it and our date on the wharf, and her telling me how she’s going to study at the Police Academy, how it’s her big dream. I’m feeling everything, the leather pressed against my skin, the air, the time going by. I remember April saying that the Academy was her one way to contribute.
“Like we all need something,” she told me.
April said it like I should be looking too, and I think that’s when all the problems began in my head.
I’m waiting in that seat in the lobby when Kalie’s friends arrive. They start looking at me. Really looking at me hard. One of them, it’s likely her boyfriend, is looking at me particularly hard, like he knows me, like he knows everything. Soon, they’ll start asking me questions – the routine kind. The kind that lead to unintended nights with unintended consequences.
My logic – frail as it is- is telling me it’s time to leave. I’m not sure how I reach that particular conclusion, but I keep thinking about April and that car ride and I keep thinking the same thing I thought then.
Why am I here?
I get the feeling that Kalie doesn’t have any answers at all. I need someone older. Wiser. Before I know it I’m running out the building, ditching my seat and sprinting. Adrenalin is flowing faster through my veins and my feet are pounding faster than ever down the footpath. I consider it rude that I didn’t leave a note or something, “had some sort of crisis and fled” or something like that, but my brain isn’t thinking fast enough for courtesies.
I think I’ll miss her. I think to myself as I spot a cab outside.
Kalie, that is.
I think I’ll miss –
“Where are you going?” the valet calls out.
It’s only five minutes and I’m on a train going anywhere but where I started.
The 3am train from Kings Cross is full of people dressed as lions, bunnies and guys in drag. One of the bunnies looks kinda cute and I consider going over to her and asking her about life and meaning and getting all-deep with her until she asks me if I’m some sort of psychic or genius or Beethoven the Second.
But then I realise I’m done with love. Maybe even for the next year or decade or for the rest of my life. I’m like one of those addicts that swear off drugs though; I have to keep checking myself. One night I swear never again and the next thing you know, you see me flirting the night after. I know I’ll be back. I’m always back. Like with Kalie – I rebound. I know I can’t stay away from the attention or the affection or the adrenalin. I crave it.
But then I disconnect.
I don’t see it as my fault. Every time I invest I get hurt, so at a certain stage I just decide not to invest at all. It’s all easy until the first argument, after that every relationship turns to dust.
April called it: “Commitment phobia.”
I call it: “Being a tragic romantic.”
In any case, I promise myself some peace for the next 24 hours, without any thoughts about women or sex or love. Just me, my life and a little bit of luck on a train ride home from Kings Cross station.
I’m so distracted that I bliss out and miss my stop. I’m about to leave a stop later when the phone rings.
It’s Tim. My roommate.
He’s somewhere loud.
“Hey,” I say.
There’s a pause.
“Cal, uh, Cal.”
His voice is slurred.
“Are you drunk Tim?” I ask.
“I’m not drunk. You’re drunk, Cal,” he says.
“I’m not drunk,” I say.
“Cal, you’re so rude to me sometimes,” he says.
Tim is incoherent.
“I don’t know how to say this without upsetting you. There’s Felicity. And Bill’s over here too, it’s part their fault,” he says.
“I totalled your car,” he says.
“Yeah we were driving to the other side of the Harbour and at one stage I just, yeah, I hit this tree and we left your car there. It’s in someone’s front yard I think, I can’t remember where exactly.”
“Yeah,” he says.
“Yeah, it’s gone mate,” he says.
I’m in faint disbelief. I’ve had my Corolla for years.
“I tried to start it: engine failure. I was scared it would blow up in my face or something, you know, like something out of GTA? I think it’s in Pyrmont – or Rosebay, or Bondi. I don’t know. One of them.”
“You being serious Tim?”
“Yeah, Cal. It’s gone. No more car,” he says.
He’s making these engine noises now, humming and whirring up.
Someone’s laughing on the other end of the line.
“I can’t believe this,” I say.
“I think it’s in -”
“You just told me it’s in one of three places.”
“Oh yeah. That’s where it is Cal. One of three places. You’re always so good with maths. You’re the best roommate I ever had. I gotta go Cal. Relax. We’ll work it out when I get home. All’s good now.”
He’s hung up.
The phone call leaves me five stops past where I had to get off.
It’s the last train of the night and there’s no way back.
At the end of the line I stop and exit and I realize it’s Bondi and I get this crazy idea of walking through the whole of the East to find my car. I don’t know what I’ll do when I find it but I walk towards the beach in any case, checking in every front yard I come across. I look for bent trees and skid marks and sirens; the police don’t take too long to get to these things usually.
There’s only silence and darkness and the odd house party still going on; coloured glow sticks flung onto balconies, silhouettes in dance and yellow lights in windowpanes.
I walk by this old primary school and cross under these streetlights to this hill that has an incredible view of the ocean. From there I head to the sea and I feel this hunger to explore and see and feel and breathe in the night air in some new way. It’s in moments like these that I wish my eyes had an inbuilt camera, that there was some emotional monitor that could record this moment for endless playback, to discover what I’m feeling better than I myself can understand it in the moment itself. But then I realize all the dumb shit people would do with eye cameras and I take back the thought and crush it into nothing.
As I’m walking I pass by Beach Burrito, an old haunt from High School, and climb down to the beach proper.
I bump into two people pacing in the sand and searching the undergrowth with a white piece of paper in their hands. They look tired and haggard, ashen-faced. I’m about to tell them to lighten up when they see me, come over and ask:
“Have you seen this girl?”
Samantha Aberdeen, missing since 8:30am, Tuesday.
I say no and their faces withdraw. It’s horrible to watch.
In part I’m trying to ignore the girl. She looks about thirteen and I get that feeling I usually get when I watch the news and hear about horrific incidents – like the whole world’s gone wrong in a single instant.
I remember my Corolla and ask, “Have you seen my car?”
The two of them look at me in disgust and walk away without giving me an answer.
I know this little cave in the rocks in Bondi. It’s not really a cave so much as it is an inlet or a reprise from the wind, with a floor of sand. I decide to go there and think about things for a while, and I walk across the beach and see the stars and watch those people go searching for the girl in new directions up and away from me.
I get to the inlet and find it damp from the waves, crashing in every so often.
I think about class and how late it is, and all this wasted time disappearing in years as the waves crash.
Three turns to four, turns to five and the sun is coming up. Time goes and turns and I see boats bobbing and stars fading and the world waking up into the day. Light can be intoxicating at daybreak. It hits me and I’m breathing in the sea air and feeling for the first time in a long time alive, young, and empty of obligations.
I’m on the beach and curling up into a ball on the sand and thinking through memories of April, Kalie and my poor old Corolla nowhere in sight, three women, gone into the night.
Soon I’m asleep and the world has gone behind me into darkness.
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