Too ill to write fiction… I’m suffering from pampering withdrawals!
Relationship status: “It’s Complicated”. Talk about a fucking understatement.
Love isn’t patient when you have to wait fifty years.
What came after happily ever after wasn’t so happy.
The rain was whispering that evening, falling sightlessly and as softly as feathers. I looked up, squinting at the sky. It was that surreal shade of electric blue, of light that lingered just before the smothering dark set in. I wondered whether this fluttering of rain was a warning of more chaotic weather to come, the conditions I felt churning inside me at that moment – leaden sheets of rain screaming down from the tumescent heavens, sharp winds whipping soaked hair across my brow like threaded needles; crashing swells, falling trees, flooding streets.
The rain just didn’t seem right, so soft and unassuming like a lover’s sleeping breath. Especially now, as I walked home alone through the dusk.
But what could I do? You can’t stop the rain from falling; even when it’s fierce, even when you don’t want it to. Especially when you don’t want it to. All I could do is make my peace and raise my umbrella against what was to come.
In the meantime, however, I continued along the path to home – feeling wisps of water caress my cheeks, wondering what the rain was trying to whisper to the world below.
He turned from his first and last home, now ashes.
Sorry, nice guys – it’s actually shy girls who finish last.
Part One is here.
. . .
“So, you are you then?” Tom said, leaning on the wall next to Portia as he pulled out his own cigarette.
“Portia Mason. We were in the same English class, if that helps.”
“Oh, wait, I think I remember you now!” Tom said, smiling as he stirred up the dregs of memory. “Sat near the back window and never really spoke? Wore those big black boots all the time?”
“Was frequently bullied by your best friends?” Portia nodded, staring ahead at the shadowed wall of overgrown greenery. “That is I.”
Tom’s brow furrowed. “Who? Like, Joe and Richard and Raff? I remember them teasing you every now and then, but never doing anything – ”
“Traumatic?” Portia cut in. “Like, call me dyke and goth and cunt every day, throw shit at me every other day? It could’ve been worse, but it was still pretty awful.” Portia took another deep drag of her cigarette. “I’m over it now. Raff was the worst. Thank Christ he’s not here tonight.”
“That’s because he died a few years ago,” Tom replied casually, lighting his own cigarette. Seeing Portia’s stunned expression, he elaborated: “Yeah, was in this really bad motorcycle accident, ended up a coma. Family had to pull the plug.”
“Jesus,” Portia said softly.
“Annabelle Lee died in 2006. Ovarian cancer.”
Tom sighed, exhaling a plume of smoke. “That sucks. I don’t remember her either.”
“Played the flute in Orchestra. She wasn’t that popular either.”
The statement hung unanswered in the smoky air. The pair stood in silence for several awkward minutes, mulling over their cigarettes.
“So, what have you been up to since high school?” Tom asked. Portia laughed drily, rolling her eyes and stamping out the light of her finished smoke.
“Usual bullshit, I guess. Got an Arts degree from UTS, travelled ’round Europe and South-East Asia for a bit, lived in Melbourne for a while, but ended up back here managing a book store that sells more lit-themed mugs than actual books. You?”
“Not much. Just bought a place in the Shire. Haven’t really travelled. I’m a personal trainer now.”
“And yet you smoke,” Portia remarked with an appraising smile.
“We all have our guilty pleasures,” Tom said, sharing the smile. “And ten years ago this was the cool thing to do. I used to hide here so teachers wouldn’t catch me – now I’m hiding from those once-cool kids, who are now parents, or vegans, or just middle-management assholes. Funny how things can change so much and still stay exactly the same in ten years.”
“Nothing ever changes,” Portia replied. “Except the stuff that does.” Portia opened her cigarette packet. “And that was my last one – think that’s my sign to get the hell outta here. Give me up a leg up?”
As Portia pressed herself up from Tom’s shoulders and he hoisted her up, he said, “Hey, Portia?”
Portia crouched on the top of the brick wall, looking back down at the ten-year progression of Thomas Wright – from popular but overly oblivious jock, to accidentally-philosophising personal trainer.
“It’s nice to meet you, finally.”
A grin flickered across Portia’s face before she dropped out of sight.
“You too, Tom.”
Losing my mind was actually a pretty amiable experience.
“Nothing ever changes,” Portia thought to herself, brushing the dirt off her black denim-clad bottom half. After ten years, the gap between the toilet block wall and the school’s main fence was still unknown to administration – even if she found as she climbed over the wall that she wasn’t as spry as she used to be. The tight space looked exactly the same as it used to – the brick wall blackened with grime, the wire fence overgrown with decaying ivy vines, and the ground littered with generations of discarded cigarette butts. And after ten years, Portia found herself hiding away from her former classmates, sneaking a cigarette in her former secret smoking spot.
Portia had spent only ten minutes here – blazing through her packet of smokes and regretting ever returning to the dump she had so actively, desperately loathed throughout her adolescence – when she heard a sudden scratching on the other side of the wall. She scuttled back just as a muscled man with sandy-coloured hair dropped down effortlessly into the crevasse. He flipped his head up in surprise when he realised he wasn’t alone.
“Goddamn,” Portia sighed, leaning her head back against the dirty brick in relief. “You scared the shit outta me.”
“I’m sorry,” he said, standing up. “I didn’t realise anybody else knew about this spot.”
“Me neither,” Portia replied, raising a fresh cigarette to her mouth. Before she could dig into her leather jacket pocket, the man moved close to her with a burning lighter.
“Are you here for the Class of 2003 reunion?” the man asked politely as he lit Portia’s cigarette. Portia narrowed her eyes and a dry laugh escaped her lips.
“Why else would either of us be back in this hellhole, Tom?”
“Oh, you remember me?” Tom said, still wearing a vague but polite expression. Portia realised that despite a few lines around his eyes, this boy had not changed at all.
“School captain, sports captain, teachers’ favourite, popular girls’ favourite. Who could forget the great Thomas Wright?”
Tom switched off his lighter and stepped back. “I’m sorry, but I’m afraid I just don’t remember you.”
“You wouldn’t,” Portia replied, taking a long drag of her cigarette. “You were popular and I…” She exhaled, starting at him through the trapped cloud of smoke. “Was not.”
Tom gave an uncomfortable grin. “Still, it was a pretty big graduating class. Coming back here and talking to all these strangers… seems like even the people I do remember, aren’t the people I remember them to be. Y’know?”
Portia lowered her cigarette, caught in her thoughts. “Ten years is a long time,” she finally said, musing that maybe some things change.
. . .