By Lachlan Walter
I wake suddenly;
sweat pouring off me and soaking the mattress. My eyes shoot open and
see nothing but the dark of the middle of the night. I reach across
the bed. The other half lies empty.
The alarm clock ticks away
on the bedside table beside me and I count the seconds as they pass.
Outside the window, the wind blows hard.
The door opens
slowly, hinges creaking loud in the quiet. Something stands there: a
silhouette, the hallway light framing it from behind. It’s somehow
familiar… It runs one hand through its long curly hair. Although I
can’t see its face, I know that it’s watching me. Wide eyed I
watch back as it walks towards me. The door slams shut behind it. I
wait, and hear no footsteps on the thick carpet. The mattress shifts
under me as something settles on the bed. A hand reaches out,
stroking my head.
“It’s okay,” a voice says. “It’s
“B’Detta?” I ask.
She laughs and
shrugs off her dressing gown. She drops it to the floor and lies down
beside me. My hands find hers.
“Hey, give me some
room here,” she says, somehow shoving me along and hugging herself
around me at the same time.
I smile in the
“Love you,” I
She hugs me tighter. Outside the window, the wind
I wake again, at the sound of metal grinding on
metal, and reach across the bed. The other half lies empty. I sit up
and pull B’detta’s gown from the floor, wrap it around myself,
walk to the window. I twitch the curtain aside, knuckling sleep from
my eyes. On the street below a delivery van has backed into a
parked car, crushing its bonnet. An alarm starts, echoing off the
apartment buildings lining the block. I let the curtain fall back and
leave the room.
I find a note on the
“Hey, hope you have a good day. Sorry I had
to run so early, late for work again. Love you…”
I start the coffee
machine and read the note a second and third time, and I drop it
clumsily as the machine starts bubbling and shaking. Coffee spills
over and water runs everywhere, drenching the note. I reach for it
and it falls apart at my touch.
I get the machine
under control and draw a cup, walk out to the balcony and sit on the
concrete rail. I start to sweat straightaway. On the street below,
the delivery van still sits backed into the parked car. The alarm
stops, and the silence is so sudden that for a moment it deafens me.
I shake my head, trying to clear it. I sip my coffee, swear when it
burns my tongue and drop it over the edge as I try to set it down. I
swear again. The cup lands on the roof of a truck and shatters.
Coffee sprays everywhere. I watch as some of it slowly pools and runs
into the gutter.
Turning back inside, I start the coffee
machine again, sit at the kitchen table, stand back up, pour a glass
of water, sit back down, drink the glass of water, stand back up
again, and fiddle with the radio. Bursts of static drown out the
fleeting snatches of song. I turn the dial a last time and give up.
The coffee machine belches and steam billows. I stop it just in time,
draw a fresh cup, sit at the kitchen table and drink it slowly.
clock on the wall ticks away. I tap my feet and drum my fingers and
draw another cup of coffee. I stand at the window as I drink it. The
clear blue sky stretches on, the wind howls. I drain my cup and walk
back to the bedroom.
I leave the curtains
closed and dress quickly and simply: blue jeans and a T-shirt.
Finding my mobile under the bed, I dial B’detta’s number. It
rings and rings. I chew my fingernails and hang up without leaving a
Putting my mobile in my pocket, I walk to the window
and open the curtains. I look down at the street. The delivery van
still sits backed into the parked car. I try to say something and
nothing comes out.
I close the curtains
and take out my mobile and dial B’detta’s number again. Once more
it just rings and rings and I can see it clearly – sitting snug in
her handbag in an empty room somewhere. I write a quick message:
having a shark day, going for a walk, gotta keep moving. I wanna see
if I can wear it out. I’ve got my phone with me, catch you
I look around the
room. I pick up my bag and walk away.
As I step out the front
door of my building, the wind stops like it’s been turned off at
the switch. The sun is a blinding orb burning high in the sky. The
delivery van is still backed into the parked car; some coffee from my
shattered cup stains the footpath. The hiss of dead air grows louder
as I walk toward the van. Fragments of song fight through the white
noise, and then disappear just as fast. I reach in through the open
window and shut the radio off.
“Hello?” I yell, looking
around. My voice rolls down the street and slowly fades away. No
answer comes. I yell again.
I take an MP3 player and a pair of
headphones from my bag. I put the headphones on and choose some music
at random. I walk, and take the first left I come to and look at the
empty street ahead. A building next to me forms a long grey wall. A
dank laneway cuts across the footpath where the wall ends.
Weatherboards fill both sides of the road, stretching as far as I can
see, all the way to the horizon. I squint and take my sunglasses from
my pocket and slip them on. The sun still burns hot at me. My shadow
cuts lines hard and sharp into the concrete beneath me.
My step catches up
to the beat in my ears and I start walking faster. The overhanging
branches don’t move, lifeless and parched in the dry air. I pull a
leaf from one; it crumbles to dust in my hand. I drop the dust to the
ground and brush my palm on the seat of my pants. A breeze blows past
me, cool and quick. And then the heat returns.
I come to a
halt and remove my headphones. A low hum, faint and muffled, carries
through the still air. I look left and then right. I scratch my head,
look left again and see something shining in the distance.
half dozen CDs hang from a lemon tree in someone’s front yard. A
sickly sweet smell wafts from the rotten fruit that litters the
ground around it. I drop my bag, take out a water bottle, and turn
away from the tree. I drink slowly. The smell eventually makes me
gag, and I spit the last of the water into the gutter.
my mouth with my sleeve and put the empty bottle away. Putting my
headphones back on, I take off in a different direction. New music
sets a new speed; my pace picks up.
The sun beats down. Sweat
stings my eyes and blurs the road ahead. I walk until the heat
becomes too much, stop at a corner, and lean against a fence. I take
my headphones off and put them in my bag. I take my phone out and try
B’detta’s number. It rings and rings, over and over. I hang up,
put my phone away, take the empty bottle from my bag and try to drain
the last few drops.
I look at the house I’ve stopped in
front of. A “Beware of Dog” sign hangs from the fence, a garden
tap pokes above the long grass, weeds cover the path to the door, and
dusty furniture fills the veranda. I look at the tap again and my
mouth starts to water.
“Here, boy, good dog,” I say
A dead car sits in
the driveway, tires sagging on their rims. Rust flakes from it,
covering the cracked, dirty concrete. Reluctantly at first, the gate
opens with a harsh, scraping sound. Every muscle tense, I walk
“Come on, boy.
Come out and play.”
Nothing happens. I crouch by the tap,
turn it to full bore and cup my hands under it. Water the color of
red desert earth splutters out, thick and dirty, before it runs dry.
I stare at it a moment before turning it off. I turn it back on; it
shudders in my hand. Nothing else comes out and nothing else
No birds answer my call, no
dogs bark. I look around at the shut-up houses lining the road, and
try to say something. Nothing comes out. I walk to the front door.
The wood is dry and hot; paint slowly peels away and falls to the
ground. I knock, hard. No one answers and I knock again. Still no one
The doorknob burns my palm, too hot to hold. I back
away, and notice a gate by the side of the house. It hangs half open.
I walk through, entering a shadowy alleyway. I peer in the windows I
pass; heavy black curtains block any view inside. The alleyway
stretches on and on.
In the backyard, rubble and rubbish fill
the concrete garden. Dust covers everything, and another dead car
sits under a tree in the far corner, burnt metal shining bright in
the sun. I look away, eyes watering.
“Anyone home?” I
yell, knocking hard on the back door, knuckles red and raw.
The sound of fist on
wood is all I hear, fading away around me. The doorknob comes off in
my hand. I push the door and it holds fast. I knock a last time,
harder again, and leave a streak of blood behind.
I swear and look
around. The burnished brass of another garden tap pokes from a pile
of broken bicycles. A steady drip falls from it. I start to heave the
pieces of bicycle aside, digging deeper. I work on, scraping through
to the wet earth. Slime and muck cover my hands. I turn the tap
greedily. Water pours out cold and clean. I crouch, holding my head
under the stream. I shiver as it runs down the back of my neck, turn
and let it flow over my face.
I stand, saturated,
hair plastered flat, and T-shirt sticking to my body. I shake like a
wet dog and crouch again. I cup my hands and drink and drink. I take
the empty bottle from my bag and fill it to overflowing.
crowd the back of the house, cushions torn and faded, springs
jutting. A cracked engine block sits on an overstuffed armchair; I
start to rock it back and forth, slowly at first and then faster and
faster. It falls to the ground and lands hard on the concrete,
splitting in two. I lower myself into the seat, put my feet up on an
empty milk crate, take my mobile from my pocket and dial B’detta’s
It rings and rings.
I hang up. The seat sags under me.
The familiar smell of
coffee burning in its pot wakes me from my sleep. I open my eyes; the
sun is falling to the horizon. Nothing moves and no wind stirs. I
force myself to my feet, hoist my bag to my back, and follow my
The street stretches on, the footpath empty once again.
Shadows gnarled and bent reach out, the skeleton fingers of trees
baking in the heat. The burnt coffee smell grows stronger, leading me
down a side street. Grim, abandoned factories tower over everything.
I crunch through broken glass, wiping fresh sweat from my eyes.
smell leads me to a faded terrace house sandwiched between two empty
warehouses. The gate collapses as I push on it; I wade through the
overgrown grass filling the front yard. The steps to the front door
sink under my weight.
I knock. No one
comes. I knock again and rattle the doorknob. The door sticks in the
warped jamb. I ram it with my shoulder and it opens a little. I
squeeze through the tiny gap, peer into the dark hallway, and see an
orange flicker in the kitchen beyond. The smell of smoke replaces the
smell of burnt coffee. I hear something crackling and the sound of
people walking on dry wood. A fire alarm starts and I hurry outside.
I sit on the step and smoke lazily drifts past me. I wait for the
sirens. Nothing happens. I stand and walk away.
I walk on, and
then turn a corner and stop dead. Nothing moves. Every window is
closed, curtains drawn, and sealed tight. I drop my bag and pull out
my water bottle. I drink it dry. The wind suddenly picks up and I
shut my eyes against it.
Dust blows into me, at first only a
little, and then more and more again. Coarse and fine, it gets past
my collar and into my shirt. I open my eyes and in the air I see more
dust and dry sand and the dirty mist of broken brick swept up by the
wind. The grit pours from the half-built house I once called home.
I squint and reach out a groping hand and find an open gate. I walk
through and tread a careful path into a ruined building.
front door and the corridor behind it have survived whatever turned
the rest of the building into slag and junk. I shelter there and peer
outside through a cracked glass pane. Running my hands through my
hair, I fill the air with dust. I catch my reflection in the glass,
all smudged and fuzzy and wrong. Dust still clings to my hair,
turning it salt and pepper grey; old man grey.
I peer out
again as the wind blows a gale down the empty street. It picks up
more dust and more sand and more mist of broken brick; as it starts
to change direction it whips it into strange figures and shapes. I
look harder, and see faces I know and gestures I recognize--a wave, a
smile, a shrugged shoulder and a raised eyebrow. I look again and see
B’Detta in the dirty air.
I hurry outside. The wind dies
away and there’s nothing but dust and sand and mist, littering the
street and choking the gutter.
I keep walking. At some point I
stumble on a crack in the footpath, steady myself, and look around,
struggling to make things out. I take off my sunglasses and realize
that it has become twilight. No street lights shine down and there is
no peak hour traffic. I walk faster. Starting to run, I take lefts
and rights at random, looking for a familiar landmark. I move to the
middle of the road. I keep running.
The street comes to an end
and I find myself back on my block. The delivery van still sits
backed into the parked car, bathed in moonlight. I take my mobile
from my pocket. Battery dead, its screen shows me nothing. Fumbling
to put it away, I drop it to the ground instead. I keep walking.
front door of my building is wide open; I slam it behind me and the
glass shatters in its frame. As usual, the lobby is dark. I hold
tight to the stair rail, feeling my way to my floor. The front door
of my apartment is wide open--no light spills out and I can’t hear
anything. I hurry inside and lock the door behind me.
the light switch and the globe flares and burns out. Feeling my way
into the kitchen, I open the refrigerator. The smell of mould and off
milk rises from within; I shut it quickly, feel my way into the
lounge room, and try the light switch. The globe there flares and
burns out as well. I curse my luck.
I sit on the couch, pick
up the home phone, and dial B’Detta’s number. It rings and rings,
over and over. I stand up and feel my way to the bedroom. I undress
and get into bed and close my eyes. Outside the window, the wind
begins to blow.
Lachlan is a
recovering schizophrenic who one day put pen to paper to help make a
little sense of his world. So far it is helping. He hopes that
you're having a nice day. He certainly is.