Thursday, May 18, 2017

Phaedra and the chickpea bruise

Of course he had to come, this afternoon with her face a bruised mess.
Oh, he thought, appalled at the gash above her swollen eye. He’s been here. Jealousy and anger made something cold and strange in his chest.
“What happened Phae?” He stroked her face and she flinched as his finger touched her brow.
“I didn’t want you to come today,” she said. “Not like this. I don’t want to talk about it anyway. It’s embarrassing.”
“Did he …?”
“He can’t touch me anymore. I don’t want to talk about it.”
They lay on the moss. The orchids were flowering, where a week before they’d been but curling tendrils, invisible to boots and layered over granite and karri leaves

After watering the plants on the roof, she’d carried the ladder home and laid it against the house. She went inside and made some curry, soaked chickpeas for the next day’s hommos and started drinking wine. The curry began to burn at its base in the cast iron pot and she turned it off and kept drinking. She sat on the veranda and looked over the inlet at the sunset. She was a good way through the bottle when a four wheel drive parked below the house where the marri trees crowded over a turnaround for the boat trailers. Doors slammed. Two men went into the bush too close to her house to collect wood. The dog started up a barking, panicked.

She waited until she was drunk enough and they’d got a good fire burning before she went down to the beach and approached their camp that way, rather than from her house. She flashed her headlamp at them.
“Whaa? Someone’s out there. Look.” Said one man in a foreign accent.
She flashed her headlamp again and said, “Hello?”

They had beer in their esky but they pulled it out for her to sit on. They talked about Europe and how different it was to Australia, gesturing to their fire proudly.
“How big is the inlet?” the German asked. He wanted to study psychology when he went home.
“It’s huge!” she said. “At least fifteen kilometres across, and it has three islands.”
She drank straight from the bottle. They were going to meet some girls the next day. They wanted to see Wave Rock. She pushed at the stump in the fire with her boot and told them stories. She was getting pretty shit faced. They nodded politely when she started repeating herself. She noticed that they weren’t drinking as fast as she was, but no matter. They would be gone in the morning.

“Let’s go out in the boat,” she said. “It’s a beautiful night. The best time out on the water is at night.”
They’d been in Australia for four days. “Maybe in the morning,” said the psychology student.

“Nah, you’ve gotta get out there at night. It’s so beautiful.”

“In the morning, maybe.”
She finished her bottle of wine and laid it down in the dirt.
“Would you like a beer?” Asked the Dutchman. They were both watching her.
“Okay,” she said.
“You can stand up then, okay?”
“Oh, sorry.” She stood up and retrieved three beers from the icebox. “Here.” She sat down again. “Hey, come on, let’s go out in the boat.”
“Maybe in the morning.” The German yawned, pointedly.

In the morning she heard them drive away. Her radio was on and the candle beside her bed had burned down to the spike on the candelabra. Her face hurt. She couldn’t remember the walk up the hill from their camp to her house. She did remember the blow to her face. Or was it her face to the blow? The spurts of blood over the bathroom floor, and washing herself in the sink, the blood spiralling down the white porcelain. Trying to see her wounds with the LED glare of her head lamp blaring against the mirror.

All so she could brush her teeth. Reaching out over the bath for the toothbrush on the window sill. Missing her mark in her drunkenness and the light of her battery-depleted head lamp. Missing her mark and thwacking down head first on the enamelled steel edge of the bath. Lying there for a little while to do an inventory of her body. The dog Lucy whining, attentive and trying to lick her better. Her crying.

After she heard the travellers leave in the morning, she went to the toilet. She made herself look in the mirror. There was a gash above her eye and the redness and swelling around her eye looked like it would darken to turn blue. Bloody hell. She dabbed on some arnica cream and then she went into the room where the dog slept.

Lucy had the indolent, sleepy air of a party dog at dawn. She looked at Phaedra with gladdened eyes. Phaedra slunk in beside her and hugged the dog. “Thank you for looking after me last night, darling girl,” she whispered to her. “You’re a good dog.”

Phaedra and he lay on the moss and talked. “Was it … was it like that time you fell off your bike, Phae?” He asked tentatively and they both burst into laughter. 
Around them, the karri trees rang with alarmed birds.