The Waiting Season
Save for two nights of a cold and glittering rain, the heat dragged on and refused to cease; it was the second month of autumn. They spoke little inside the antiseptic rooms, along the passageways that wound around the place haphazardly. They read, assembled puzzles, traced the after-moves of knights and queens during furrow-browed games of Alice chess. Light flitted across the walls and on the chairs that lined the walls, as the girl ran past the numbered rooms, past the overpowering smell of flowers in the foyer, past candle heat and candle smoke, into broom cupboards and shower stalls where the man found her not long after, her knees drawn to her chest, breathing limits onto ceiling, wall, the chequer tiling on the floor.
A season during which they were set apart; they grew into themselves. Under the limestone cliffs, they scrabbled around for shells, stones, old whale bones. She dived into the water, her shadow splintering on the rocks, and surfaced to the green and white bands of the lighthouse wavering into place, the squat, reassuring bulk of the roundhouse, his faraway figure on the sand beckoning that she return. They remained impassive and unconvinced in dining rooms and smoky yards, around people that once had meant other things to them, having found their perfect state, set apart. They ate from vending machines, out of grease-stained paper on clifftop lookouts. She watched the boy with black hair falling into his glasses lifting from the froth a snapping crab or writhing cray; the rest she waived to him, and cracked the shell, ate the flesh, sucked the sea juice out indifferently.
The girl looked long and hard at negative space, on the daybed in the atrium, late afternoon. She dragged charcoal sticks across drawing paper, emptying sheet after sheet of sages on horseback, deities of earth and water, a pantheon of stone gods bound by glass walls and a glass roof which one day would, she believed, slant the light in that would draw them into movement, flesh, decay. She found him outside by the ferns and standard roses, a cigarette in his hand, staring at rising drifts of smoke. As insubstantial. It was there for the man to see, this quality of smoke, when she turned him over on the page with increasingly cold detachment, as the heat exceeded its bounds and refused to cease, in the crude and awkward lines that nonetheless expressed what would always remain beyond her technique.
Evening and the wind rushed in, muscular and harsh, sweeping in wood smoke and rain, the smell of ravaged trees and deserted streets. It trailed in its wake a streak of pebbles, dust and ash, a taut and sudden silence. Wheels spun without sound, without traction. Lines surged then snapped, cracking whip-like at the sky. The man cycled past vacant lots and park reserves, past the unseasonal straggle of sunflowers by the schoolyard fence, and thought about lilies, it was time for the lilies. He ran into the wind at corners, which swept him up the spines of hills and blinded him, lashed and stranded him, then skidded him down the gravel slope to the sand, the surrounding cliffs black slabs, the sea rushing in, thinning out, reflecting the stranded light cup, nothing.
The wind was in the peppermint trees, breaking twigs, releasing sap, tracing in vanishing characters across the glass the first long-awaited traces of autumn. The girl looked up and read "haha", "kaze", "ki". She read "ma". Negative space. She would finish the horse and make it vanish among the foliage on the page. With her charcoal sticks she drew out the space between, the space around, the interstice. She fell asleep, waiting for him to return, the moon through the peppermint leaves a slab of white, now a sliver on the glass where she lay, binding leg bones to her chest.
Her dreaming cry from down the hall, the clattering of hooves along the street, nothing at all, would wake him to find it rising like smoke in the room's half-light. He failed at lines, a justifiable shape, at coordinates in space and time. It was not of dimensions he understood but forced the cracks between the cornice and the ceiling to gape open and exposed the room to the bruised and pallid sky. An impossible weight pinned him to the sheets. He became convinced of equine lines, a rearing, pawing movement, and smoke rushing in to fill the hollow in his chest, hurtling deeper, each time it drew him out of waiting to such untimed moments in the dark. He was held to it by the kind fear that would shift its shape, one raggedly drawn breath later, into the perpendicular lines of a half-lit doorway in the dark.
C Mendoza is a West Australian writer living in Florence, Italy.