The Big Issue : Edition 466
THE BIG ISSUE 29 AUG – 11 SEP 2014 15 It had to be after two in the morning since it was well past one when he gave up on sleep. He’d taken one of his wife’s sleeping pills, to little effect. All he could do afterwards was walk from one room to another in the resort apartment, his wife and his daughter indistinct shapes in the unfamiliar beds, lying quiet and motionless in the darkness. Moving close enough to hear them both breathing, so quietly taking air, his heart was louder in his own ears. He stood by their beds for long moments to convince himself he wasn’t imagining the barely noticeable noise of their lives. The idea had been to go to the pool and see if he could clear his head. If he could manage to calm himself, maybe he could still find an hour or two of sleep and the new day need not be a fatigue wreck. He shakes his head at the word wreck. She shakes her head at him in playful mimicry. “What?” “You run into things even when you’re going in the opposite direction.” “Run into what? Me?” “Running into walls,” he says, palms out. “Like a sleepwalker.” “They don’t crash into walls. Sleepwalkers open doors. They look into fridges without seeing anything, cut onions, turn on the stove and start preparing a meal, leave it half done and go back to bed. They can drive cars and murder their wives. Probably not at the same time,” she says with a grin that reveals both tracks of dental braces. “My parents found me wandering around the house in the middle of the night a few times when I was little. I don’t think I ever did anything interesting.” Her eyes blink and shine – she was doing something interesting now. It was a game, the same as the crate from the Congo floating down on a parachute. Perhaps this girl had snuck out of her holiday apartment while her parents were asleep with her older sister’s bikini, an opportunity to play dress- ups in the middle of the night. Play-acting with her new body the same as a wondrous new dress – with a safe man she’d seen around the resort, a husband and the father of a child. Looking up into the night sky, face tilted back, a body in bloom offered to his gaze. Maybe even his touch. Clenching his teeth, he lowers himself into the water with open eyes, all the air in his lungs breathed out in one seething mass. He surfaces in the centre of the pool with his face raised, wiping away the water from his eyes. An ember falls from above. He watches the crimson spark make its way down five flights, dropping into the bushes surrounding the pool, instantly lost in the dark foliage. Up above, on a fifth-floor balcony, a man lights another cigarette – leans over onto the railing with a bottle of beer in his hand and looks down at the pool while blowing out tobacco smoke. He draws back on his cigarette with an ugly grimace. Entirely bald, bare-chested and very white, as though he’d just arrived from somewhere bitterly cold, like a long New York winter of concrete and ice. The girl tilts her head further back to look at the man on the balcony and then returns her gaze to the water. He swims to the edge of the pool and pulls himself out in one fluid motion. Stumbles when he gets to his feet outside the water. Lands on his knee. Gets up easily enough but he’s grazed his knee on the rough poolside surface. The sleeping pill has thrown off his sense of balance. In the minimal lighting it wouldn’t be clear to the girl that he’d hurt himself and he needn’t feel too embarrassed as he walks away. He picks up the towel he left on the sun chair and stands there a moment as he dries his hair and arms. “Better get back,” he says. Hides the limp as he walks to the gate and begins climbing the stairs that will take him to his apartment. He stops at a landing to wipe the blood from his knee with his beach towel. The girl lies down, her long black hair surrounding her face like a deep shadow, looking up into the night sky by the pool. In a moment she’ll decide it’s time to head back; for now, she closes her eyes as though the tropical sun was blazing away above. Her feet paddle the water and he can still see those pretty magenta nails. At the top of the stairs, on the fifth floor, he looks across to the opposite balcony. The smoking man is gone. The empty apartment behind him is illuminated and the light is striking in the surrounding darkness. The bottle of beer he’d been drinking is balanced on the railing with two other bottles. If one fell it wouldn’t shatter poolside, it would fall into the bushes the same way as the thrown cigarette had a few minutes before. Blood is running down his shin by the time he opens the door to his room. There’s a first aid kit in the bathroom. He’s not seeing clearly as he cleans his knee and applies a broad bandage. The sleeping pill has created a haze in his mind. His vision blurs in the bright bathroom – fluorescents above the mirrors and recessed downlights in the ceiling. He blinks at himself in the mirror and sees himself as the girl in the pool might have seen him. A familiar unknown in the shape of father/brother/lover/husband. A presence rather than a person. A barely known reflection gazing back, as calm as a deleted email. When he leaves the bathroom he hears a commotion outside the apartment. Harsh shouts – a woman and then a man. Raised voices muffled quickly. And then he hears the sound of his daughter crying. A nightmare. She’s babbling when he sits on the edge of her bed to comfort her. He’s not sure what she’s saying until he’s able to calm her down and it turns out a butcherbird flew into her room while she was asleep. No, he tells her, the butcherbird was the songbird, despite the nasty name. “Was it a magpie you were dreaming about?” She nods and tells him that there had been more than one, she heard the magpies ruffling their feathers in the shadows and she wasn’t able to see the mostly black birds in the black room even when she opened her eyes. “Are they still in the room now?” she asks, and how can he be sure that they aren’t? He closes her window. There’s a view of the pool and that lovely pure blue liquid light it emits – empty and perfectly still now. He drops the blinds and returns to her and puts his lips to her forehead and breathes her in. Places a calming hand on her chest, sings a long lullaby. He leaves her bedroom door open so the light from the hallway will keep her from total darkness. A.S. PATRIC IS THE AWARD-WINNING AUTHOR OF THE RATTLER & OTHER STORIES, LAS VEGAS FOR VEGANS AND BRUNO KRAMZER. HE IS PUBLISHING A NOVEL WITH TRANSIT LOUNGE IN APRIL 2015 CALLED BLACK ROCK WHITE CITY.