No. 23 Annihilation

There are times, there have been times, when I have been suddenly swept up by a powerful wave of joy, doubt or fear.

Like someone fishing peacefully from rocks I have been swamped by a wave so powerful and so unexpected that there can be no preparation, no defence.

At such a time I feel myself pounded and compressed into nothing – annihilated by sudden devotion I succumb. I am engulfed and extinguished.

There is a kind of thrill to it to though, if I am honest. There is something exquisitely pleasurable at the capitulation, something sensual, even sexual that taps a deeper root. Such surrender flays dead meat from the bone revealing a superbly sensitive spot. A zone delicate and erogenous, and fully open to the whip.

This is so even if the proximate cause, the genesis of the wave itself, lies in fear or self-doubt, rather than joy or devotion. Accepting ones utter defeat, unreserved and unqualified. Wallowing in it, revelling in it, and at last accepting that absolute, orgasmic, failure, can trigger a raging ecstasy. Ones every nerve quivers expectantly before the lash.

This is a guilty pleasure, selfish and solitary, never to be revealed, never to be explained and never, ever to be shared.

Annihilation is the ultimate, personal act, not only preceding the adoration of the beloved, but primary to it. Succumbing therefore, if understood correctly, is, must be, a betrayal of the beloved – a rejection of the beloved, cleansed in private bliss.

Shall I admit this then to my beloved, shall I confess? No! Never! In guilt there is satisfaction, but in shame, nothing.

No. 22 Agony


I am not subject to sudden, unwarranted fits of emotion. I am the logical sort. I am analytical and phlegmatic. I like to think of myself as stoic and taciturn.  I have been called aloof. It has been suggested that I am pompous.

It is therefore something of a surprise to find myself pondering a range of possibilities that have never previously entered my mind.


I have recently begun a relationship. With a woman. She is fifteen years my junior, but she is not the usual sort of silly flibbertigibbet that one meets. She is serious, well-educated and well read.

We met upstairs, in the pre-loved section of Berkelouw Books in Leichhardt. She was perusing a copy of Miller and Mundy’s ‘Painting a Map of Sixteenth-Century Mexico City’. I told her straight out that a hundred dollars, even for such a rare manuscript, was far too much! I said I would gladly loan her my copy.

I also suggested the collection, ‘Their Way of Writing: Scripts, Signs, and Pictographies in Pre-Columbian America’ edited by E.H. Boone and G. Urton.

Her name was Consuelo Rosa Gálvez, which I thought a little florid. However I asked her if she was any relation to Maria, the playwright of the same surname. She explained that she was not, though she was impressed that I knew the lady’s work and invited me to call her ‘Chelo’.

I mentioned that the strawberry and balsamic vinegar gelato was very good at the gelataria across the way.


  • Why did I offer to loan her my copy of ‘Sixteenth-Century Mexico City’ which I had obtained at no small cost and which I had not yet finished annotating in the margins. Why on earth did I say I would do it gladly? I hate lending books, one never gets them back. Of course I do not question my interjection regarding the exorbitant asking price – that was mere courtesy to a fellow bibliophile.
  • Why go on to recommend ‘Their Way of Writing’, was that not intrusive, presumptuous?
  • Why mention strawberry and balsamic vinegar gelato? What possible relevance was there?
  • Why form a relationship? At forty five years of age I am scarcely in need of a housekeeper.


I find myself unable to answer the above questions in anything like a convincing manner. Further, I am at a complete loss to explain my current preoccupations.

Whenever she goes out, which she must do and which I completely understand and accept, tiny fingers of fear and doubt begin to caress the out edges of my mind.

I begin to worry that some danger may befall her, she may be waylaid by the sort of oaf that hangs around street corners smoking cheroots.

An injury could befall her, perhaps a fall or a car accident. One never knows.

Perhaps she will come to her senses and realise that an intelligent, personable and fine looking young woman such as herself could do better than me. I begin to fear abandonment, I begin to realise its inevitability. I suspect that she will tire of me, that in time she will feel revulsion.

I am not used to this sort of disturbance, I cannot accurately describe it and I am lost for the right word to encapsulate it.

I cannot work. I cannot concentrate. I find myself watching the clock. Ticking off the hours, the minutes, even the seconds until I hear her key in the lock.

I jump up and switch on the Concordia espresso machine. I set out two tiny coffee cups and saucers. I place four biscotti on a little plate.

She sweeps into the room in a flurry of bags and jacket and scarf, all cast onto the floor in her hurry to stroke the index finger of her right hand through my graying temple, caress the spiky short clipped hair at the back of my neck, and kiss me softly, and slowly, without any other thought, or intention, or place she wants to be.

‘How was your day my love?’ she asks

‘Flat out!’ I reply, ‘Haven’t had a chance to scratch my own behind.’

We have coffee together, in silence, except for the crunch of the biscotti.

A moment of revelation.

‘Agony’ I mutter under my breath. ‘That’s what it’s called’.

She looks up.

I smile.

No. 21 Abandonment

I awake with a start. She is gone. The bed is cold. I am alone.

Did we have a row? I can’t remember. Did she threaten and I shout? Was I given one last chance or none? Was I too far gone to notice or to care? The sheet is stiff and cold in my fingers, soiled and grimy to the touch.

I scrabble for the clock. Five a.m. Still dark. Early autumn.

I lurch to my feet. Last night’s Shiraz swilling around my gut. My tongue purple and furry, my lips stained. The room smells of dirty clothes and unwashed sheets. The cold congealed remains of a pizza lie unwanted on the bedside table.

I find my trousers crumpled in the corner. Flung there last night, t-shirt nearby. I pull them on and then my boots, no socks – fuck knows where they are.

On automatic pilot now I do up my watch, slip my wallet into my pocket and grab my keys.

I pull the curtain and turn on the light. Some of her clothes are scattered around the room. There is a dark stain on the carpet.

Where the fuck is she? Where has she gone? What did I do? Did I do anything, or nothing?

Fear of abandonment saturates me, her absence fills the room – panic threatens.

I throw open the French windows onto the balcony and stare down into the communal courtyard. Her car is still there. Doesn’t mean anything, she was too drunk to drive.

I turn and run across the bedroom, boots thumping loudly on the polished floorboards. I throw open the door and charge towards the stairs.

I hear the toilet flush in the bathroom behind me down the hall. I turn as she comes out, tousled, hair all over the place, gorgeous.

She is still half asleep. She looks at me confused.

‘You’re up early, where are you going?’

Relief and shame vie for supremacy. For a moment I cannot speak.

‘Don’t leave me.’ I hear myself saying, ‘Please don’t ever leave me.’

She looks down at my boots, for the first time really taking things in.

Her warm smell envelopes me, her arms enfold.

‘Oh you goose’ she says, ‘come back to bed.’

Outside, the first glimmer of dawn begins to show.

No. 20 Memory

We are happy I think. I can’t know for sure.

I am not entirely confident that I have the emotional intelligence to make the call. I watch other families and compare. We seem to be OK, as far as I can tell. The house smells of toast in the mornings, which I always associate with contentment. We are easy with each other now. The silence that sits between us in the evenings is restful and calm, rather than taut and uncomfortable.

The light fades over the hillside as the last late stragglers make their way back to the rookery, disconsolate cries pierce the still of the evening, offhand flapping of clumsy black wings suggesting some kind of avian existentialism – a statement, about something, possibly.

My memory is shot. I’m missing large sections of my life. I don’t sleep well at night and I often suffer from bad dreams and tantalising partial memories. People say they will come back, but I’m not so sure. It’s been a while.

I don’t know who I am without my memories. For a long time the feeling that I was actually someone else was acute. When I googled it, all I could find was ‘Capgrass delusion’. I looked ok on the outside. I looked just like myself. But on the inside I was different. I was inhabited by someone else, someone hidden from view but ever-present, concealed in hidden memories, secreted in muscle memory or body-knowledge. There was someone else in here, unseen, buried in blood and breath, and flesh and bone.

That began to fade over time. I’m not sure if it was because the new memories I was adding every day were more relevant to my life, more vibrant and immediate than the supposed past memories I could no longer recall, or if it was merely that my new memories were instantly accessible – if I wanted or needed to recall something I would unconsciously always dive into the new memories – so reliable and quick.

I used to be deeply bothered by the origin of any of my habits or quirky preferences. For instance, on week days I love to start the day with an espresso coffee. Why is that? Or more importantly, who is that? Is that my preference, a new preference, or is it a preference grown in someone who now no longer exists, scoured from my brain by the ravages of anaphylaxis?

Whatever it was, whenever I noticed it, I would become obsessed with the question. Whose habit is that, what life events engendered that perspective, that attitude?

Amputees often experience ghost feelings, ghost pains in cremated limbs, vagrant sensations in flesh long since gone to the furnace. I felt a similar thing, ghost associations, phantom recollections – the shadow of redolence in the taste of Shiraz. The sensations of foreign objects triggering strange familiarity, the heft of a nine-iron suggesting past intimacy.

These things drove me crazy. I was hard to live with, I know it. We made enquiries, tried to find out who I was, or whose I was, but nothing came up.

With time the obsession faded. I was who I was, just like everyone else. I was me, whoever that is.

Those first heady days of craziness and fear have passed and with them the extremes of high and low. We are at peace, finally.

She works part time, mornings only, to leave time for everything else she packs into each and every twenty four hours.

She likes to entertain. We often have parties, perhaps not as often as when we were younger, but often still. We cook lamb on a spit and she makes huge quantities of potato salad, tzatziki and an incredible white garlic dip, which should really come with some kind of government health warning, hotter than you would imagine, or expect. The fridge is always filled with homemade garlic sauce and hummus vying for space with the loan ampule of adrenalin she keeps on hand, just in case.

The backyard fills with smoke and the whole place smells of barbequed lamb for a week.

She is of Irish-Greek heritage, born in Melbourne of course, in St Kilda when it was a slum. She is exactly as tall as me, which is tall enough for a woman, but not very tall for a man, and she has a smile that lights up a room.

Lately she has taken to painting and drawing. Never one to constrict her options, she works in oils, acrylic and watercolour, gouache, pastels and charcoal. She produces large quantities of work in rapid succession, each time shaking her head in frustration, standing back, pursing her lips, saying ‘what do you think?’ and then knocking out another one almost before you can reply.

She has talent but no patience, which is unfortunate – but she is improving. She pulls her long hair angrily into a thick bundle and places it savagely between her teeth. She looks quite piratical at these times and I find it is often best to withdraw and put the kettle on.

Her studio is filled with apparent chaos and smells of turpentine. It has fantastic views across western Sydney to the Blue Mountains. It’s too hot to work in in summer and too cold in winter. That’s why she mostly works on the kitchen table and why there is an ancient dried up tube of Windsor and Newton Chrome Yellow oil paint in the cutlery drawer. It stays there now, that is its place. It has gained some kind of totemic power. It cannot be moved or thrown away.

All is not well however, not perfect. I get incredible migraines while I’m awake and vivid dreams when I sleep. At these times I sometimes see a kind of double. I see another now or time or place superimposed over this time and this place. It’s as though I am looking out from the inside of a giant soap bubble, through the swirling, scintillating colours, at another world, perhaps as real as this one, just a micron away, the other side of the shimmering veil.

Occasionally I reach out, trying to break through, hoping to rip apart the veil between the worlds. I have this tantalising feeling that if I just tried a little harder, just stretched a little further, I would tear a hole in the gossamer curtain and it would all flood in, two separate and very different worlds, rushing together.

I see a woman sometimes, dark and slim, younger than me, and a little boy with my eyes and curly hair. There is fear in the image, or foreboding. Is she my mother? Is he myself? There is no way of telling.

I am left nauseous and wrung out. Powerful waves of vertigo overcome me if I shift my head too quickly. Sometimes I am convinced that the visions are real, or represent something real. Lost memories perhaps, or visions of the future or of an alternative reality – I don’t know. I just wish they would go away.

Our first meeting was less than auspicious. I was homeless, unemployed, and penniless. Distinctly the worse for wear having just been treated for anaphylactic shock. I’m sensitive to everything and anything. It will be the death of me I’m sure.

We bumped into each other quite literally, or I bumbled into her, in Canterbury Hospital Accident and Emergency Department. I am profoundly allergic to mould spores and had suffered a massive allergic reaction to something on the skin off an elderly Ugli fruit. I was leaving the emergency room as she was being brought in with an asthma attack. I walked smack bang into her.

She wasted no time in expressing her displeasure at my carelessness, but, as she later acknowledged, I appeared dazed and confused, and she felt sorry for me.

Even today the smell of a fruit market and/or the sight of an Ugli fruit make me sick.

That was ten years ago. Now we have a daughter, and an exuberant chocolate brown ‘Australian Surf Dog’ sporting dashing blonde streaks and devoid entirely of common sense. He is part Labrador and part Schnauzer which means he is energetic, playful, food oriented and insanely territorial. He protects us enthusiastically from anyone and everyone who comes to the house. His name is Schtumpig and he reeks always and unremittingly of dog.

Our daughter is seven years old and reads. She reads all the time. She has twice been asked to leave the local bookshop, where she hides in the corner and works her way through the stock, and she has once been locked in at the local library.

She is named Natasha after her maternal grandmother whom thankfully she resembles not in the slightest. Natasha has thick curly auburn hair, very distinctive.

‘Must be from your side of the family.’ Her mother insists, ‘no one on my side has hair like that!’

We live in a small weatherboard house with a tin roof in a nondescript suburb of Sydney and we have, as has everyone in Sydney, an enormous mortgage.

I work as a building manager in Pyrmont. She got me the job – no previous experience required, which was just as well.

I have a considerable, but essentially useless, knowledge of capital markets, bonds and derivatives and I am an avid reader of the financial pages.  Where did that come from? No point dwelling.

As we don’t have so much as a cent saved I think it is safe to say my interest would not even constitute a hobby.

We love going to the beach with our daughter and the dog, but we never go to Bondi or Manly which are too crowded and commercial. She jokes that I have developed something of a complex about it. We tend to go to Brighton-le-sands as its only takes about twenty minutes in the car.

We are, I suppose, settled in our ways, or becoming so.

Lately, much to my surprise, I have found odd memories popping out unexpectedly. I remember Flemington Fruit and Vegetable Market. I have a sort of a half-memory of being in the market, people swirling around, hundreds of stalls, every kind of exotic fruit, huge piles of Asian vegetables and dried things from all over the world. Somewhere someone is playing Islander music, loudly, on a tinny PA. Very optimistic, heavy reggae beat.

I needed some exotic fruit. It was for a Caribbean Pork Casserole. It suddenly came to me the other day. We were watching one of the endless cooking programs and it just popped into my head, ‘Caribbean Pork Casserole’. Funny, I don’t recall ever eating it.

Curious thing, memory.

Tomorrow, Sunday, we are going to Watson’s Bay for lunch at Doyle’s, Sydney’s premier fish and seafood restaurant. It’s a bit outside our price bracket but thankfully some old friends visiting from Melbourne, are treating us.

‘I don’t know how long it is since I’ve been to Watson’s Bay’ she says, not really inviting an answer. I say nothing. I don’t remember ever having been to Watson’s bay, which, for a Sydney-sider, seems impossible.

I am not a great believer in using GPS. I suppose it’s a guy thing. I pride myself on my knowledge of Sydney, on being able to navigate from anywhere to anywhere without electronic aids.  In order to bolster this pretension I review the route to Watson’s Bay in the Sydney UBD. I find it relaxing to trace the route with my finger across pages, flipping back and forth to find where one suburb joins the other. It seems somehow more real than being told ‘turn left’, ‘turn right’ by a disembodied voice.

I am wiggling along Old South Head Road, my fingernail tracing out the twisting route.

I suddenly find myself talking, thinking out loud really.

‘To be honest, I’m not really happy about it. The trip I mean.’

‘What trip?’

‘To Watson’s Bay. I don’t really like the idea.’

‘Why not?

‘I don’t know.’

‘You don’t want to turn down lunch at Doyle’s surely?’ she is incredulous, Doyle’s is her idea of luxury, we don’t have spare cash for posh restaurants.

I’m not sure what I think, or what to say. I have this sense of foreboding, or something deeper, dread perhaps.

‘I feel uncomfortable about it.’ I venture.

‘In what way?’ She is not yet angry, still more curious than anything else.

‘I can’t explain it. It’s probably nothing.’  The conversation trails off. Neither of us is happy. A sense of malcontent lies across the room, rank as teenager’s socks.

Our friends are arriving tonight, we will meet them tomorrow. We have plenty of cleaning and tidying to do. I am allocated the back and front yards. We have to pretend we live without clutter or mess of any kind. It’s a ritual I think.

I begin to round up the various toys that have been left lying around, a bike, Anastasia’s reading hammock, some kind of sculpture, or possibly an invention, that Anastasia says she is working on. All go into the shed, with a bit of effort. At last I get the bolt closed and the padlock snapped shut. I don’t know why I bother locking it, there’s nothing of any value inside, for that matter there’s nothing worth stealing in the bloody house either. Ah well, another habit I guess. Vaguely, somewhere at the back of my mind the old, unanswered questions rears its ugly head – whose habit? Yours or someone else’s?

Next I go round to the back yard where we grow vegetables in raised beds and put all the gardening tools away.

Are they supposed to think we do it all with our bare hands? Whatever. No point arguing, she’ll just stomp out here and do it all herself, along with everything else. There’s no negotiating with her when her mind is set. Once the bulldozer is engaged you either get out of the way or get run over.

It doesn’t look too bad actually. I collect up a few hand tools and line them all up neatly in the lean-to.

There is an enormous swarm of fruit flies buzzing around the composter. The door is wide open. It’s Anastasia’s job to chuck the scraps into the barrel which, to be fair, she does without too much complaint. She’s not a finisher though, she will always open the fridge but not close it. Same with drawers. You can follow her path around the house by following the trail of items left open.

The sliding door on the composter is stuck. I can’t shift it at all. Well I can’t blame the poor girl for that I suppose. I put one foot against the frame and pull hard. Harder. The damn thing won’t budge, there’s no movement at all.

‘It is a bit stiff.’ I hear my beloved call, helpfully, from the kitchen window.

I try again, pulling with all my mite and main. At last, suddenly, the slider gives. It slams shut with a loud bang and I fall over backwards. A billowing cloud of fruit flies swarms around me, followed by a puff of dust – millions upon millions of tiny particles, spreading in glorious slow motion from the ventilation holes in the large old drum.

I land hard on my back. I am unprepared. The breath is knocked out of me. I hear a gentle giggle coming from the kitchen window, more rueful than mocking.

For a moment I struggle for breath and then suddenly take in a giant lungful – of fruit flies and those infinitesimal slow motion motes.

I struggle to my feet with such dignity as I can muster.

She is watching from the kitchen window, only the shadow of a smile now plays across her generous mouth.

And then it hits me. I am dizzy, struggling once again to breathe. I take two steps towards the windows, choking, gasping. I hear the fridge door bang loudly as I hit the ground. I hear her feet on the steps. The last thing I remember before consciousness fails is the ice cold prick of the needle and the peculiar, unlovely sensation of chilled adrenalin entering my blood stream.

I wake in the emergency room of Canterbury Hospital. My head aches and I feel wrung out, but other than that, not too bad.  My hands are shaking of course and I feel jittery, but that will pass.

‘You need to look into desensitisation therapy.’ I look round. A young Indian doctor is studying my chart.

‘You’re the most allergic patient I’ve ever treated.’ He says, ‘It could quite easily kill you if you’re caught away from medical attention.’ I nod, there’s nothing else I can say really. I’m on the waiting list.

‘It was only your wife’s swift thinking that saved you this time.’ I catch her eye across the room, somber, tender and full of concern.

‘You are right’ I say, ‘I will look into going private.’

The doctor gives us the usual advice and tells us to return immediately if I have any trouble breathing. We say our good byes and thank-yous.

We make our way out of the emergency room into the early evening air. It is one of those glorious Sydney evenings when the clouds spread in equally spaced rows across an azure blue sky lit purple and red and orange by the first rays of sunset.

We are silent on the drive home. She drives, I sit in the back with Anastasia who clings to me like a limpet.

I can feel the start of another migraine. My lips are going numb, my fingertips tingle and bizarre patterns of brightly coloured light flicker before my eyes. It’s going to be massive.

‘Migraine’ I say, a warning. She knows what to do.

‘Home in five minutes.’

By the time we are home I am all but incapacitated. She leads me into the house and puts me to bed. She closes the door silently, returning a few seconds later with some tiny blue pills and a glass of water. I choke them down and lie back in the dark.

‘I’ll be fine in the morning.’ I say, ‘Don’t worry.’

I fall quickly into a deep sleep. I don’t hear her getting into bed.

About three a.m. I wake up and feel my way to the bathroom. I turn the light on, tentatively, not sure if I can take the brightness. I run the cold water for a few moments and then take a glass.

My breathing is fine, my heart rate is normal, I don’t feel sick. I am not blinded by the light. So far so good.

I stare at my reflection in the mirror. I look like shit.

I take another look. I have a sort of double reflection. I see me, as I am now, middle aged and greying, and a younger me, fresher faced, confused, staring back. For an instant, for the briefest flash, there is mutual recognition. I know him and he, me.  And then he is gone from sight, but his presence lingers, somewhere.

I stand and stare at my reflection, examining every feature, every pore. He’s in there somewhere, I known that for certain now. He has revealed himself, in plain sight, for the first time. He’s not getting away now. I must know who he is. I will track him down, no matter what.

It comes as some surprise when, at last, staring into the reflection of my own eyes, asking myself the usual existential questions that the early hours and a close shave with death will drag out, I see him, staring back at me, through the same eyes. I know who he is. It’s clear at last. He is me. But who is that?

We turn off the light and creep back to bed. Dawn is a few short hours away. At last sleep engulfs us.

Morning arrives with merciful gentleness in the form of a big mug of strong Irish breakfast tea and a tender kiss.

I really don’t feel too bad. We have a couple of hours before heading over to Watson’s Bay. I have the time to take one glorious sip of tea before Natasha comes racing in and throws herself on the bed.

‘I’m going swimming at Watson’s Bay’, she says, ‘There’s a saltwater pool.’

‘Sounds great.’ I reply, stretching out for my mug. She shifts on the bed, threatening to spill the tea.

‘Can we go to see the Gap’ she asks with a sunny smile, ‘where broken people throw themselves to their inevitable doom?’

An ancient memory stirs, jarring my subconscious into momentary life.

‘I’ve been to the Gap’ I say, to no one in particular.

I remember the waves crashing maniacally against the rocks. The wind raging in from the endless Pacific. The spume over topping the cliffs with ease, soaking me to the skin, chilling me to the bone. I remember the constant roaring sound, drowning out thought.

I wrap my arms around myself, protection against remembered elements.

‘Did you curse the mother who bore you and consign yourself to hell and perdition?’

‘Where do you get that stuff?’ I laugh, despite myself.

‘A book. When did you go there daddy?’

‘I don’t remember.’

‘Well, why did you go then?’

‘I don’t remember that either.’ A justifiable lie.

My younger self stirs. He remembers all too well, but he is keeping his own counsel.

I jump up from the bed, Irish breakfast tea forgotten, and head for the shower.

Torrents of near scalding water strip away my sins, scouring mind and body, reducing me to whimpering innocence.

At last the sound of someone banging on the door penetrates my stupor.

‘We have to leave in an hour!’

‘Ok’ I shout back, ‘I’ll be right out.’

‘Wear something nice! Your stripy shirt with the button down collar.’

I have my orders.

I make my way back to bedroom, steaming prodigiously, a towel wrapped around my waist,. I don my R.M. Williams – dark brown ankle boots, light brown jeans, a heavy leather belt with an ornate buckle and the stripy shirt with the button down collar – Aussie Chic.

‘You look nice.’ She sweeps into the room, Natasha in tow, ‘You didn’t drink your tea?’ She gives me a sharp look – I always drink my tea.

‘I’m just about to have it’ I say, ‘I thought we were in a hurry.’

‘It’s cold’

‘Nonsense, I’ve timed it to perfection. It’s finally reached the exact right temperature.’

I take a sip. Stone cold.

‘Ummm!’ I manage, as a swig it down,’ Lovely.’

‘Daddy says we can go to the Gap and watch the people throwing themselves off!’

The look she shoots me somehow manages to be both penetrating and inscrutable in equal measures.

‘I did not!’ I almost shout.

‘Oh! You big fat liar, you did so!’

‘I said I had been to the Gap. I did not say we could watch people throwing themselves off!’

She is quiet, for a moment trying to remember what exactly I did say. She gives up at last, memory proving unreliable.

‘Well what’s the point of going to the Gap if you can’t watch the people throwing themselves off?’

‘It’s not like they do it all the time.’ The conversation is getting out of hand, ‘There isn’t a queue. You don’t have to take a ticket and join the line, like at Medicare.’

‘We can go then?’ she has somehow managed a fait accompli, ‘We can go and see where their poor frail bodies are crushed against the rocks?’ A consolation prize at least.

I cast a beseeching look at my supposedly supportive partner, the mother of my child. She steadfastly refuses to be drawn.

‘I don’t know what you’ve been teaching this girl.’ She says, grabbing her smart handbag and wafting out of the bedroom.

‘I haven’t been teaching her anything. If anything, she’s been teaching me.’ I shout after her. It’s pointless. I’ve lost.

We bundle ourselves into the tiny second hand Toyota and I start the engine. I grab the map book for one last check while she, rather ostentatiously in my opinion, turns on the GPS and programs it for Doyle’s Restaurant. It’s about forty five minutes’ drive according to the machine.

We drive in silence until we reach the ANZAC bridge.

‘That where they shot The Matrix’ I say, pointing out an iconic grain store, relic of a different century and another way of life.

‘I know’ Natasha moans, ‘you say that every time we drive into the city.’

‘Load jump program!’

‘You say that too.’

‘Great film, based on the Gnostic heresies you know?’

‘And that’ Natasha and her mother, speaking and laughing in unison.

I navigate the lanes of the Anzac bridge with aplomb and manage to find my way into the cross-city tunnel with relative ease. Next thing we are whooshing out into Rushcutters’ Bay and the eastern suburbs.

The sense of unease that has been stalking me since yesterday is back, grumbling – it hasn’t had its dinner. The watcher inside me is awake too, and alert. As we begin the wiggle through Double Bay and up towards Vaucluse I begin to see older, somehow familiar, images of landmarks, buildings, parks and vistas. ‘There used to be a little clothes shop there’ a tiny voice inside me notes as we exit Double Bay and begin the decent into Rose Bay. Fleeting flashes of what might be memories attend the internal narration – I am picking out a child’s T-shirt, I am slickly changing gears in some flashy car – too brief to grasp, to crisp to deny.

‘I have been here before.’ I find myself saying as we begin the winding ascent to Vaucluse.

‘I thought you said you’d never been over this way?’

‘Well I have’ I am almost whispering, ‘a long, long time ago.’

She is sitting upright now, staring across at me.

‘Are you ok? Do you want me to drive?’

I shake my head, barely able to speak. Images and memories are coming thick and fast now, a snow storm of icy, razor-sharp recollection.

I feel sick. I am afraid I may actually vomit.

‘I used to live here I think’

‘You think?’ she is fully alert now, reflexes tuned and quivering, her instincts are strong.

‘I know.’ I say, my voice cracking, ‘Just near here, on the right somewhere.’

I glance at the GPS. There is small, winding road coming up on the right.

‘Captain Piper’s Road’ I say, more to myself than anyone.

She hears me.

‘Is that where you lived?’ her voice is taught, controlled.

‘Yes!’ I manage, as I wrench the car across the on-coming traffic and up into the narrow street.

Memory and actuality are merging now, catching up with each other, synchronising. I recognise the street, the houses and gardens.

‘Around the next corner’ I am gasping, retching, struggling to breath.

‘What’s wrong with Daddy?’ Natasha has finally put down her book having the noticed the wild swerve across the main road.

We round the bend a little too fast. I stamp on the breaks and the car squeals to a halt partially on the pavement outside a smart little California bungalow. A woman and a boy are just coming out.

Memory is flooding back, what had been a storm of individual recollection has become a flood, the narrative of my life, swamping and filling my consciousness.

I remember sitting alone late at night in my office at the bank. I remember the endless scrolling red on the screen, uncovered positions, loss-making trades, pitiless margin calls – a virulent cancer eating away at my life. I recall the sense of utter devastation and loss. I remember driving away at speed. I remember the Gap. I feel again the heat and sweat of the ascent to the cliff top. My heart is pounding. I pull off my jacket. It is instantly snatched away by the wind and hurled into the gulf. I realise that my wallet and keys are in the pockets. No matter. I see a light across the way. An elderly man is looking at me from his doorway. He begins to walk towards me. I climb over the feeble little barrier and approach the cliff edge. I climb a little way down and peer into the raging waters, all but invisible apart from the heaving white spray. I mean to jump. I tense for the leap.

Courage fails. I half run, half crawl along the side of the cliff into the bushes. I slink away into the night leaving my life behind.

I feel a touch on my arm.

‘Are you ok?’ She is calm, concerned.

I am staring through the dirty windscreen at the woman and boy. They have seen me. They are staring back. The woman is in early middle age, slim, pensive. The boy is about fifteen, he has thick auburn hair, very distinctive.

I open the door and step out into the street. I hear the car doors open and close behind me. For a moment my legs give way. I grab the bonnet of the car. The boy has my face, my eyes.

He looks back at his mother, uncertain. Then back to me.

‘Dad?’ he says.

No. 19 Affirmation

She has gone back to her mother’s place and taken the kids.

It’s about a five hour drive and there is no railway station nearby.She has served me with divorce papers. I’m on my own.

Our house is up for sale and I am living in one room of a shared house in Saint Paul, a down-at-heel suburb of Corinth on the railway line half an hour from the city centre. The pervasive smells of unfamiliar eastern spices find their way into every nook and cranny accentuating my sense of separation. The apartment seems always to be full of steam from cooking. Condensation runs in rivulets down windows and walls. I can no longer afford to run a car.

I bought a frying pan, a plate, a mug and a knife and fork from the nearby charity shop. I share the kitchen and TV room with the other residents. They are mainly Muslim migrant workers from neighbouring countries. They are polite and friendly and do not intrude.

I can send and receive emails on my tablet computer paid for by my employer. I am not supposed to use my work computer for personal matters but this is my lifeline, my connection to the woman I love – the woman I left my wife for – my reason for being – the counter-balance for all my woes.

She has not yet left her husband. She will do, when the time is right.

Although I have lost much, almost everything, the bargain was a good one if I have her.

I am looking for a word, a single word that will justify all this.

Although I speak several languages, even if I could communicate with aliens or spirits, nothing I say would have any more meaning than clashing metal, or a wind chime, without her.

Even if I could see the future and understood quantum mechanics and had a belief strong enough to change the world, without her I would have nothing.

If I were to make some extravagant gesture and give everything away to the sick and the poor, douse myself in petrol and set a match to it for world peace, it would mean nothing without her regard.

She is patient and kind. She is not jealous or envious. She is not vain or proud and boastful.

She is never rude or selfish. She is slow to anger and quick to forgive. She does not keep a tally.

She takes no pleasure in others’ misfortune but delights in their achievements.

She is trusting and protective, always optimistic and never gives up hope.

She has never failed me.

Still I know, what has been will eventually pass away. All plans will end.  All voices will ultimately fall silent. Everything we think we know will finally prove false.

Despite it all I will cling on to these three things: faith in my beloved, hope that we shall one day be together and the validation of our shared, perfect love.

Of all of these it is love I value most.

There, I have found my word…

No. 17 Waiting

The period of ecstatic joy that accompanied the moment she first gave me her phone number has now emphatically passed.

Now I am beginning to realise what a curse it was. I had waited and wanted and wished for her number for months. I had blamed, berated and beaten myself for a coward for not simply asking for her number.

My friends told me: ‘Just tell her you enjoyed her company. Tell her you’d like to get to know her better. Just ask for her number.’

Then, one magical day when the spirit of a braver more self-confident me miraculously inhabited by body, I asked her.

She took a small notebook from her purse and a small enameled Biro, and she wrote her name and her phone number in neat, clear letters. She said Wednesday evenings were good for her and weekends. She smiled.

I didn’t call her straight away, the moment I got home. I wanted to of course, more than anything, but I didn’t. I wasn’t trying to play it cool, though a couple of times I tried to tell myself that I was. I didn’t call her because I was afraid she might have given me the wrong number.

When at last I did call, on the following Tuesday, she was out. I got her voice-mail and hung up immediately without leaving a message. Once again I was ecstatic, for a moment, she had given me her real phone number. Then, again I was seized by anxiety and self-doubt. Why hadn’t I left a message? What kind of an idiot would I look?

Then five minutes later, pretending I had not called previously, I called back and did leave a message. I said it was me and that I wondered if she had any plans for Wednesday.

I hung up, pleased with myself and more than a little relieved. But then five minutes after that I realised that I hadn’t given her my number. There was no way she could call me back.

Should I call again, affecting rueful amusement, and leave my number. No. That would take someone far more courageous than me.

Maybe she knew my number, maybe she had already asked someone else for it?

Now I had her phone number, I had called her, I had left a message and I was no better off than I had been before. Worse in fact, as I would now look an idiot whether I called her back or not.

I decide to call her back. The phone rings and immediately she answers it.

‘Oh’ I say.

‘Who is it?’

I say it’s me and that I am phoning her back because I realised I hadn’t left my number in case she was free Wednesday.

She says she’s glad I called. She says she is free Wednesday evening and that I can pick her up at 7:00pm. She hangs up.

I am beyond ecstatic I run around chasing my tail and chanting ‘Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Until I realise I do not have her address.

Should I phone her back?   I’m not going through that again. Maybe if I work my way through the phone book I can figure out her address from the phone number.

I can’t call her back again, not so soon. I am physically and emotionally exhausted as it is.

I start working my way through the phone book. It is amazing how many Johnson’s there are for such a small town.

After about half an hour the phone rings. I pick it up absentmindedly and say ‘Yep, Wha-Sup?’

It is her! I must sound like a complete bozo, no one says that kind of thing anymore.

‘Hi, she says, ‘just thought you’d need my address for tomorrow.’

I write down the address. I say ‘See you tomorrow then.’

‘Tru Dat’ she says with a little laugh and hangs up.


No. 16 Annulment

We have only ever been friends, thank goodness. I have never been given ‘the treatment’.

She is handsome rather than pretty, sporty and competitive. She loves to compete, one to one, never in teams, and she loves to win.

She keeps her dark brown hair short, almost boyish. She says long hair gets in the way when she is kayaking, or foot-boxing, or rock climbing, or doing anything else for that matter.

She always has a boy in tow, usually tall and thin with corded muscles, wiry, never big and bulky. She calls them her beaus. I think she thinks it sounds more classy than lover and more grown up than boyfriend.

The pattern is always the same – though she never seems to recognise it. She is always either in love, head-over-heels, besotted, or collapsed, very temporarily, under a crushing grief – either of abandonment or disappointment, depending.

Each is always ‘the one’, and while he is the one he is the subject of her absolute, undivided and unremitting attention. He gets ‘the treatment’.

From the outside it always seems a bit unfair, like shooting fish in a barrel.

She loves sex of course, that’s the heart of the matter, she loves boys and she loves sex and the best sex is always to be had when one is swept away in the first unbearable, unsustainable flush of new love.

It always seems to me that it is not the boy that is important, it is the love, or more precisely, it is the being in love. It is the being swept away with love. The craziness of it, the irresistible force of it, the consequent absence of culpability. The effective innocence afforded by love is what she loves.

She slumps down in one of my oversized blue cotton arm chairs, carefully crosses her legs, like a child, and then she says:

‘He is wonderful, you have to meet him. I know you’ll love him. We met in <Tibet/The Amazon/Astronaut Training/Insert Selection Here>. He says the funniest things <Insert funny thing here>.

She enfolds the new beau in a thick blanket of words such that no sense of any individual remains. His very being is synchronously deified and annulled by her act of love, he becomes concurrently a God and a cypher destined only to abandon or disappoint.

Which of course, inevitably, he does.

No. 14 Alteration

I observe her, as I have observed her so many times before, from across the crowded café.

I cannot hear what she says from this distance, but I can admire the perfect curve of her lip, her sweet smile. Her scent, fondly remembered from chance moments of physical closeness, cannot bridge the void between us.  I taste hot dark coffee on my tongue, taken with one large Muscovado sugar cube, just as she takes it. I admire the way the curve of her tiny waist so closely matches the violin curve of her chair. I feel the hardness of the curved wooden chair beneath me, worn smooth by the passing of many strangers. I am a stranger to her and she to me, though we have shared these Tuesdays, this precious half hour, many times.

I should not come. I should stop coming. I should be resolute and firm with myself. I should move to the South as my brother keeps urging. Yet I stay, unable to approach, unable to speak, held at this exact distance Tuesday after Tuesday, time after time.

Abruptly, from nowhere, or perhaps, had I greater self-knowledge, from the fuming fire of need and desire fulminating within me, comes decision. This time it will be different. This time I will approach, I will speak!

No, not yet. I will follow, I will watch. She is wearing her primrose silk high heels. How perfectly they set off her shapely ankle!

At the allotted moment she pays the waiter and walks serenely from the café, eyes down, demure. As she leaves the café I see her put up her pale blue umbrella, the colour of childhood skies.

I pay too and leave hurriedly, knocking over my chair as I grab my coat. Fumbling, apologising. I see her turn left down the little lane, heading for the main road. An early autumn drizzle has started. I run to the corner struggling into my overcoat as I go. I do not see her as I enter the lane. Desperation drives me through the crowd. I push through them, noticing my unaccustomed discourtesy, shouting out uncomfortable apologies and pardons as I go.

At last I make it to the main road. She is standing, patiently at the front of a small group of people waiting to cross. I slow. I approach nonchalantly, weaving through the loose knot of people. Making my way to a point just behind her and to her right.

A taxi drives past, splashing a little water as it goes. An elderly lady is startled and slips on the wet paving stone. She stumbles. I see one primrose silk shoe slip off the curb and into the muddy slurry.

The girl turns, her face twisted and contorted by rage.

‘Watch what you’re doing you stupid, clumsy old bitch! You’ve ruined my fucking shoes. You should be in a home!’

The crowd pulls away from the altercation. The elderly lady mutters an apology. The crossing light turns green and my life walks away.

I stand in the early autumn drizzle, my world collapsed.

No.10 Single

The smell of boiled cabbage wafted occasionally from the kitchen to mix with the stench of my partner’s cigarettes.

The flat was spacious and expensively decorated.The nights were just starting to get longer and I yearned to be somewhere else doing something else with someone else.

On the last day of that relationship we were sitting watching TV as an acceptable alternative to talking, and a welcome alternative to arguing.  I was well-over her, had been for six months or more if I’m honest, but I needed time to find another place and to get up the nerve to leave. I want to say I was trying to allow her the opportunity to change but the truth is I wasn’t. I couldn’t care less if she changed or not. I was just biding my time.

On that day though, our last day as it happened, as we were watching TV, a woman was being interviewed. She said that she was newly single after an unhappy relationship. She was determined to remain single for at least a thousand days.

‘That’s you isn’t it?’ my partner accused, ‘You want to be single for a thousand days don’t you?’

I said nothing. I made no response at all, keeping perfectly still, feeling the smoothness of the leather sofa, scarcely daring to breath. I had learned to give no sign, to give her not the slightest excuse for another explosion of rage. We had been arguing for months. I had even packed my bags a couple of times, but I had nowhere to go.

My partner was right of course. I decided right there and then that this would be our last day together. I could hear the sounds of the traffic over the din of the TV. I am lured by the bustle of the world outside. The next day I moved out, determined to be single for a thousand days.

I left a note, I explained my decision, and I jumped in a taxi with everything I, personally, owned.

My first morning in my new, more or less empty apartment was spent removing and un-friending her, her bloody family and all our mutual friends on social media. I emailed my good friends to say I would be back in contact in a few months.

On my first afternoon I went for a ride on my new bike, to check out the cycle route to work and just to be free and alone and have no one to answer to.

It was bliss. I felt a certain non-directional guilt at taking pleasure in being alone. This was it. This was what I wanted – to be young, free and single again. Ok maybe not quite so young as the last time, whenever that was, but the ‘free’ felt more free than it ever had done before, and the ‘single’ felt fantastic!

My first weekend as a single guy I cycled to the German club in Tempe. I spoke quite good German from a few years working in Berlin, and I liked to keep it up, but the main reason I went was for the bratwurst and the good German bier.

I locked up my bike and sat down. Everyone wanted to hear about my breakup and my new flat, and how it felt, and did I have any regrets and was there anyone else on the horizon, and NO, THERE WAS NOT. I told them all I was going to be young, free and single for a thousand days. And that was that.

I felt, rather than saw, a quiet girl with an enormous jug of pilsner sit down on the bench behind me.  I felt her presence as a kind of gentle warmth on my back. I ignored her and spoke with my closest mates for a while. People got up to get drinks, people changed seats. After a while she ended up sitting next to me. I ignored her. Not pointedly of course, I wasn’t trying to be rude, but absolutely and emphatically. I was only about eight days into my thousand and I was enjoying myself.

Then someone kindly introduced her. Her name was Stephanie. She was from Berlin. She worked for some international conglomerate in an incomprehensible marketing job that nobody in their right mind would ever want to hear about.  Cool, that was safe.

Then she spoke to me in a voice soft as silk on a summer’s night. She didn’t talk about work, she didn’t talk about herself. She didn’t offer vacuous opinions on topics she knew nothing about. She asked me about me. How come I spoke such good German? How long had I lived in Germany? Which city? What brought me to Australia?

I was attracted. I admit it. I was immediately attracted and I wanted to get away before she got under my skin. I had to get away.

I made my excuses, saying I had to meet friends for a cycle ride, and ran, or cycled away, as fast I could. I pedalled hard, clearing my mind of her, the cool breeze blowing away the sound of her voice, the warmth of her eyes, her scent.  I renewed my commitment to my thousand days, in the process all but circumnavigating the city.

My week at work was busy, I spent the evenings collecting items of furniture I had ‘won’ on eBay, and arranging and re-arranging my flat. Life was clean, simple and good.

Next weekend I met friends for drinks at the Goethe institute. Some horrible modern German poet was giving a reading. Anyway, the company would be good. The night was fun, the poet wasn’t too awful and I had a few more glasses of wine than usual.

At some point I noticed that Stephanie was in the room. She did not approached me. She did not even catch my eye or give me a quick nod. Rude cow!

I ignored her, pointedly. I didn’t need her sniffing around, complicating my life.

A few moments later she was standing behind me talking with a not unattractive young man from Dresden who was in Australia studying reptiles. I could feel her eyes on me. I caught a few snippets of conversation.

‘…yes, there is a fixed ratio between the maximum size a reptile can grow to and the average ambient temperature.’

‘Fascinating. So Australia has bigger reptiles than Germany?’

‘Oh yes, and many more varieties.’

Oh for goodness sake!  I turned and said:

‘Stephanie! What brings you to a poetry evening? I wouldn’t have thought it was your thing at all, all those nuances, and finer feelings.’

‘Oh, hi’ she said, ‘nice to see you again. This young man was just explaining to me about Australian reptiles.’ The young man turned and smiled nicely. On closer inspection he wasn’t that attractive at all. He had an overly large nose, small eyes and thin lips. In fact he looked a bit like a reptile himself.

An awkward silence grew, and grew, until even reptile-boy noticed and had the good grace to drift off somewhere.

‘It really is very nice to see you again’, Stephanie’s voice washed softly over me like a scented breeze. ‘Oh shit’ I thought, ‘here we go again’.

We got talking. She was attentive. She smiled at everything I said and gave every appearance of being interested. I drank a bit more and began to laugh loudly at my own jokes. We swapped numbers. I warned her I worked late every night and my weekends were booked for months ahead. I did not call her and was not expecting to hear from her.

The following Friday she invited me round to her apartment promising to make me a lovely home cooked supper.

Of course I went. Of course she turned out to be a wonderful cook. Of course …

I managed fifteen days as a single guy. Not bad.

No. 9 Adorable

‘I don’t love you anymore. I’m sorry. I wish I did. Things would be so much easier.’

‘Don’t say that! I can’t stand it when you say that.’

We are making a token attempt at discussing our situation. We are playing at being civilised about it. The familiar burnt toast smell of our once shared kitchen, it’s cluttered, homely cosiness accuses me, silently.

‘I’m sorry.’

‘You can stop saying that too!’

‘Well what do you want me to say?’

‘What does it matter what I want? When in this whole sorry business have you ever considered what I want?’

‘I have considered what you want. I am doing this for you as much as me. I don’t want either of us to find ourselves sitting opposite each other in five years’ time, with nothing to say, when the kids have gone and there’s nothing to distract us from one another.’

‘You’re doing this for me? You must be kidding. You’re doing this for yourself and your tart!’

‘She’s not a tart.’

‘Don’t you dare tell me what she is and what she isn’t. She is stealing someone else’s husband. My husband. I’ll decide what best describes her.’

We sit opposite each other over ‘our’ tiny kitchen table. Merciful silence reigns for a moment.  The plastic table cloth, its ancient William Morris pattern still clearly visible in places, is sticky with honey and spilt milk from the children’s breakfast.

‘Why do you like her anyway? What do you see in her?’

‘I don’t know exactly.’

‘She’s short and fat and her bum sticks out.’

‘I don’t know about that!’

‘And she has buck teeth.’

‘She does not have buck teeth.’

‘Yes she does, and she’s a slut.’

‘She is easy to be with, good company.’

‘Oh I bet she is.’

‘No, not like that. I mean she is, we are, simpatico.’

‘Simpatico? When did you start using words like simpatico?’

‘We get on.’

‘Do you think she is beautiful?’

‘No, not exactly. She perfectly alright looking.’


‘Well she can be sexy I suppose.’

‘You suppose? You don’t know for certain? You’re not sure if the woman you dumped me for is sexy or not?’

‘Oh stop it.’

It’s raining again. Hard pellets of rain tap angrily against the glass. The sky hangs very low and black over the city. It will be dark soon.

‘If she’s not beautiful and she’s not sexy. Is she at least generous, or kind to animals and small children? Is she strong, or loving or a good fucking cook! Something, anything! Give me one bloody reason why you prefer her to me!’

‘She’s just adorable.’


‘Yes, I find her charming and sweet.’

‘That’s it? That’s all you’ve got?’

‘I find her adorable.’

‘Sounds more like a bunny rabbit than a woman. Come to think of it, she does look a bit like a rabbit, it’s the big brown eyes.’

I feel disloyal but I have to agree. There is a very slight resemblance.

Outside it is now fully dark and raining hard.