Happy New Year!
This is the last (4/4) instalment of my Christmas/New Year novella, Ghosting Europa.
At 11:55pm, Algernon Spires walked into the limelight and belted out a virtuoso performance. How could he have doubted himself? As he held the final note, the compere counted in midnight. Algernon’s voice boomed through the first explosion of colour in the sky and for the next fifteen minutes. The orchestra attempted to come in on top of him but he kept his note. All heads were upturned as rockets painted the sky. Few would notice and none question, the lights that flickered on and off in time with his vibrato in the old buildings of the Rocks. But dogs barked. A slight breeze picked up. The flickering lights spread to other old places and the occasional high-rise. The forlorn buildings on the lower north shore were most active. As the breeze gathered momentum, a wave of twinkling lights moved out across the suburbs of the city.
Onstage, Algernon’s entire body was a blur of oscillation. His focus was on the water. Droplets were spraying up from the surface, as if thousands of invisible pebbles were being thrown in. To anyone who chanced to look down, they would have taken it for rain. But there was no rain. The vibrato in Algernon’s voice intensified until finally all of the flickering lights went out, the wind died down, and he finished his note.
Deep on the watery bed the ammonites began to spin as each was bowled over by a direct, invisible strike. They rolled in their organised arcs, shedding mass as they transformed from weighty, white fossils to translucent, vital beings of electric blue radiation. They sparked together, energy finding energy, invigorating the spiral. It rose. It pulsed. It spun. It became a vortex, draining blue light through its focal point, whipping the waters around it into a maelstrom, intensifying its focal density as it turned. Then, bang! It was gone.
“You right, Buddy?” Arn asked Algernon. Algernon was cleaving onto Sheila as if he had the bends. His throat was a deep crimson-mauve above his tux. His face was red. He drained a two litre bottle of water then pointed in the direction of the Observatory.
“Good!” Arn took off, pushing his way through the crowds. “If we don’t hurry we’ll miss their landing,” he called.
“The Ammonites went back to Europa.”
Sheila didn’t understand. Until this afternoon she ignored most of his talk of aliens. Now she wanted to know. On the way back to the theatre they had met him in the catchment. He began explaining that the Ammonites originated in Europa, the watery moon of Jupiter. Europa vibrates with the tension created by opposing gravitational forces – its own and Jupiter’s. Water pressure on Europa is constantly fluctuating. Life must compensate for the pressure changes. Ammonites evolved the many-chambered shell to do just this. Their spiral formed as a horn that produces the sound waves that guide them, like echolocation, he had said. It was as far as he got before they reached the theatre. It didn’t mean a lot to her. Now he continued.
“Jupiter inundates Europa with radiation energy. The Ammonites have evolved a coping mechanism for this too. Under intense water pressure they’re able to shed their physical mass down to just their impulses, their souls. Once they reduce to this electric blue impulse, they can travel through space and mass. They can spiral down infinitely in size to move through highly compressed matter – the inner-space environment of a single, sub-atomic particle – and then spiral out again infinitely to experience much lower compression of matter – the almost vacuum of outer-space. They play their radiated shell with virtuosity to travel across the universe. Without its music they can’t travel. Separated from their shells, they are bodiless souls, ghosts in need of a home.”
“Like real ghosts?”
“Like poltergeist moving things around?”
“Just until they find a host body to…”
“Possess,” Sheila finished his sentence for him.
“Just like a Horror Movie, but they didn’t have a choice.”
“We’re going to the Observatory to see these ghosts?” she asked, hearing more disbelief in her voice than she felt. “Isn’t the sky a little too polluted tonight?”
“Up there,” he pointed, “not down low on the horizon where Jupiter hangs.”
They had been forced to slow their pace. Instead of dispersing a crowd had gathered at the Harbour railings on the far side of Circular Quay. An ambulance crew was attending to a couple of bodies newly pulled from the water. As they walked by, Algernon splintered away and joined the crowd milling around. He recognised the injured. They were Hyde Park dwellers. By the time Arn and Sheila caught up, they were pronounced dead. Alger tried to shepherd the other two away but not before they realised whose bodies were being wrapped. It clicked. Ammonite souls had been inhabiting Alger’s disenfranchised friends’ bodies. This journey to Europa took place with a couple more souls than was originally intended. As the ambulance crew loaded the cadavers into the van, Alger warbled incoherently.
“They couldn’t wait anymore. They’re home-free,” Arn said.
“Do you call dead, free?”
“That’s just the human body. If they can discard their Ammonite shells, they don’t need their human ones.” Arn shrugged.
“What about the humans?”
Alger started warbling at her.
“Where are their souls?” she demanded of him.
“No bodies can be inhabited unless they agree, like a rental. Or leave their transpersonal chakra open. You know, the drug thing,” Arn proffered. The penny dropped.
She turned to the being masquerading as Alger. “Where’s Alger?” He grabbed her hand and together they jumped the railing into the harbour. They plummeted into the cool depths oblivious to any bystander who may have seen them. Their fossils glowed and their minds communicated.
“The only way we can experience your world as you do is in your bodies. It’s dangerous. Once our impulse leaves our shell it’s almost impossible to reinhabit it above the depths of your oceans. Many have been stranded here. Millennia have passed since the great receding of the waters. It was easier then. But your world was even younger. Your kind hadn’t evolved yet.”
He waited a moment for this to sink in. Sheila was horrified. She knew that he wasn’t normal anymore but she hadn’t expected this. Was he dead? Whose impulse was communicating with her now? By impulse he meant his soul. But it wasn’t Alger’s soul. He was an alien. Alger was human.
“So much time has passed. My kind’s radiation has deteriorated despite our immortality. It’s our life spark – the way we travel, how we feel, our consciousness, our essence no matter what material entity we inhabit. It’s as essential as a highly pressurised environment for our movement between worlds.”
All she could think was that he was in Alger’s body! What were his intentions? She let go of his hands and immediately began paddling to retain their submerged depth. He could sense her ambivalence and appealed to the sense of wonder she had experienced that afternoon.
“We came here to explore this new world. We should have remained low but the shallows were so enticing with their sharper, technicoloured vibrations.”
She could understand that want. But there were ethical boundaries. Sheila felt the ribbing of the fossil at her neck with her hand. It was warm and heating up. She felt its static electricity and knew that somehow it was helping her respire. Whooshing the water around her she kept both her arms within her sight.
“That which you wear is empty, save for your own vibration. My kind were too eager to leave the nurturing pressures they arrived in. They lost their carapaces as they ascended. Their shells petrified into what you recognise as fossils, ammonites. So altered and weighty, the delicate vibration of their impulses could no longer bare their shells. They fell away to the ocean floor.”
Again he waited for a response from Sheila. Her mind was racing. Images and sounds of the last fortnight entered her mind. The field of fossils on the ocean floor, spirals of all sorts in the apartment at Arncliffe, Arn loading boxes of fossils into her car, reports of sightings of Alger at the nuclear facility in Sydney’s far south, street people diving into the harbour…
“Once the fossils had been irradiated and positioned they needed a means to leave the human bodies they were trapped in. A strong vibration like a beautiful song had to be produced that could open their borrowed physical senses and let their souls soar away.”
Alger’s voice! Foreboding gripped her.
“There have been too few, ripe carriers over the ages since we first arrived. My people have had to reinhabit bodies as often as you will take breaths in a lifetime and more. Those who couldn’t find a suitable body have haunted many dwellings waiting for one. Tonight we sent those bodiless spirits home.”
“We? You and Alger?” Sheila demanded.
“His body is an exemplary specimen, a meticulously honed tool. Without his incredible lung capacity, the strength of his diaphragm, the elasticity in his larynx, so many souls would be lost… It’s a pity for him he didn’t respect the life force he was given.”
“But your gain. Where is he and the two who died?” Sheila had to work hard to maintain herself at a stationary depth. Her waterlogged gown wasn’t helping.
“You must understand something about souls. A soul is fragile and vain. It has to be exercised and feted by the beauty around it. When it acknowledges simple sensory pleasures and has abstract thoughts it rises above physical need. All life inhabits matter for its own sake but when it begins to acknowledge that it does, a soul arises. Its aura emanates away from its material core and it experiences the higher states – music, love, laughter, reason. They allowed their souls to be reabsorbed by their physical bodies. They were already dead. Their sacrifice was inconsequential when you realise how many souls were saved. To save your people, wouldn’t you sacrifice the life of another, lesser being?”
“Give him back.” She paddled her hands and feet feverishly, losing her shoes.
“He may be fully absorbed by now.”
“You can’t hold onto his body forever.”
“I wasn’t planning to,” he replied with pervasive gravity.
“His memories are still alive,” she argued, adjusting her dress straps as they fell off her shoulders, hampering her movement.
“Yes. His love for you is compelling. Too compelling”
“Save him.” She was struggling.
“It would be very difficult.”
“You owe him.” Her head pounded.
“Once I’ve gone, he may not be able to collect the rent.”
“Then you’ll owe me.” In the silence that ensued, Sheila realised that Alger’s alien had formed an emotional attachment to her, aside from Alger’s. Was he expecting for her to pat him on the back and ask for another jaunt through the harbour before he left?
“We will need a pressurised environment to do it. We cannot do it in the Harbour. We would risk transporting the dolphins that buoy up the human bodies. We need a small controlled tank, like the one in the Museum exhibit by Hyde Park. Arn will need help. Call your brother and come to the Museum. There are no guarantees that Algernon will survive my exodus.”
Sheila left him, surfacing quickly. Her head ached. She realised the folly of jumping into the Harbour in her evening dress. Finding her clutch by the railings, she was thankful her phone and keys were still inside. Arn was nowhere in sight. She didn’t wait for Alger-alien. He repulsed her. She needed to think.
If she got Alger back, who would he be? The addict?
It was months into the run of the show before she saw the extent of his chemical entrapment. He needed something to ground himself with after a performance and something to take him there before. He took something to sleep and something else to help him wake. Assuming that his body was able to cope with going clean, could two weeks of the strong, alien life force governing him be enough to block the chemical detour his physical body operated on? Assuming he wanted to get clean.
He was a constant source of her sleepless nights. When he didn’t come home after a performance she’d call her brother and they’d go looking for him. Whether he was gone a night or several days he would invariably turn up passed out somewhere public, somewhere he would be found – a park, a train station, public amenities. Then one morning he was found by accident when a car went through the façade of a condemned house. He was barely alive. An ambulance was called and he was hospitalised. He wasn’t ready for rehab. It was hard work. If he really intended to get clean he would have to give up being Algernon Spires, singing sensation, and Alger, everyone’s best mate. At least for a time.
But if he came back sober how would she know whether he was Alger the human or Alger the alien? What if he really was just a body kept alive by a foreign, alien soul? And could she go through with his depression if he returned to the state he had left in? She needed healing, herself. She had to face the probability that she would be bringing it all on herself again. Dread gulfed her. What was she doing? She would never again allow herself to be ensnared by the push and pull of his addictions.
Was it Alger who brought the alien to her or was it just that the alien needed her to implement his plan? What did the alien mean by Alger’s love for her was, “too compelling”? Why did he bother taking her out underwater, giving her such wondrous experiences? He didn’t benefit from it. Why bother breathing her to sleep? Why should he care? Why come home at Christmas? Why be so tender with his mother? Alger cared. Alger knew how much he had taken away from them. Alger knew how much he had hurt her. She finally understood why he left. Now, she needed to talk to someone who understood her, who would listen. She needed the old Alger.
Not two weeks after his return she was calling her brother in the middle of the night again. Why did the alien want Jason? Her brother was a school teacher and trained in first aid. Could that have something to do with it? Jason didn’t need to be convinced, he’d been expecting something to go wrong ever since Alger had returned. She kept walking out the frustration of the last couple of years.
At the theatre she changed into her stage-crewing blacks, met her brother at the stage door and led him down to the Dungeon. Arn, changed for the occasion, was waiting for them by the grate. Together they entered the catchment, squeezed through the void between the sound proofing and the bedrock and made their way to the roof of the rail tunnel. Once they climbed down, Sheila realised a drop in the water level from the afternoon. Rail Corp really were hard at it.
They followed the feel of railway sleepers beneath their feet, backtracking via a railway exchange, towards Museum Station. The faint rattle of trains on the City Circle was disconcerting. They were walking straight towards it. The water level fell to a comforting sludge. Soon the sludge became mud, then rubble. Gradually, as they moved forward, a faint bead of light spread into a beacon. It was the lit platform of St James Station, just one stop short of their destination. Bollards over the tracks and the gentle round of moving escalators confirmed that this part of the City Circle was operating. So too, would Museum Station be. Bending low and keeping hard up to the embankment of the platform they moved from the darkness through the light and back into the dark of the tunnel. They strode quickly up the tunnel keeping the vibrating lines of steel on either side of them. They intended to feel an approaching train before they heard it and hoped that “limited service” meant fewer trains.
When they reached Museum, Arn retrieved his discarded pick from beneath the platform and led them through a manmade rent into the catchment under the road. Hopefully, by the time they were to return, the trains would have stopped for the night.
The Australian Museum
The Creatures of the Deep exhibition was unique. For the first time ever animals living in the deepest oceans could be exhibited alive. Until now, efforts to catch living, deep-sea fauna and bring it to the surface had failed. This kind of biota collapsed when removed from their highly pressurised ecosystems. Finally, the museum had at its disposal the technology to net and nurture deep sea creatures in pressurised tanks. Since the water had to be constantly refreshed and re-pressurised, the Museum floor had to be fitted with appropriate drainage in case something went wrong and the tanks imploded or the pipes burst. Tonight that drainage system served another purpose.
The glow from the tanks lit the exhibition hall and provided a pilot through the drainage grates into the catchment for Sheila, Arn and Jason to navigate by. Alger-alien and his handful of leased-bodied friends were waiting for them. Their pendants were glowing. A couple of them removed the grates and helped the trio up into the exhibition hall. Alger-alien immediately took Sheila’s mobile phone, torch and pen from the bum-bag strapped to her waist. He put the torch in his mouth, displayed her number on the phone and indicated for her to draw its digits up his forearm as big as his arm would accommodate.
The Hyde Park aliens removed the lid from the largest tank and gingerly laid it on the floor. Mounting a ledge they surrounded the tank. Transparent, white sea-cucumbers lolling on the gravelly bottom were its unsuspecting, sole occupants. One at a time, the hobo-aliens began humming in a fugue of varying keys. The first low and gentle notes sent ripples over the water’s surface. A higher pitch, a tenor, from an adjacent side of the tank turned their direction. Immediately they were driven back by the dramatic reverberation from a high soprano directly opposite the first voice. Swayed across by a baritone charge the ripples were pushed to complete a circle. One by one the alien occupiers untied the ammonites strapped to their necks and threw them in. Arn looked on.
“Why’re you the lazy one?” Jason asked him.
The swirling surface gained momentum. The humming became warbling. Alger’s bass register joined in as he mounted the ledge. The lower waters began to shift with the surface. One by one the fossils became translucent. Alger’s voice gained intensity and volume. A deep vortex began to form in the tank. It rushed around in great turbulence picking up the ground cover off the floor. The tank became an opaque, brown slurry. A flash of flickering blue light illuminated a shell circling close to the eye. An alien host jumped in. Warbling rebounded off the walls of the exhibition hall. Blue radiation erupted through the submerged body and through the shell. The body started to convulse: limbs contorted, spine arched out, head snapped back and forth. Spasm after spasm erupted through its human frame.
“You’re killing him!” Jason yelled, leaping up onto the ledge. He yanked the circling body over the edge of the tank and struggled with its dead mass until Sheila reached him. Together they dragged the body away. They laid him on the floor and pushed out as much water as they could before Jason began CPR.
The others continued their song, calming the waters to equilibrium. The sea cucumbers seemed unperturbed by the commotion around them but there was one less ammonite at the bottom. The surface of the water began to swirl again as humming turned to warbling. Arn was mesmerised. The human host they’d just pulled from the water began to breathe on his own. He was exhausted and confused, but alive. Sheila and Jason sat him up against a wall and returned tank side.
The process was repeated for each of the aliens. Not all of the bodies revived as quickly as the first. Sheila had to learn CPR on the job. When only Alger’s guest remained, dread overwhelmed her. With each successive transport, the vortex moved slower and it took longer for the fossils to become massless. Alger’s voice was stretched even to his limits
“What if he can’t do it on his own?” she asked Arn over the din.
Arn didn’t answer. Distracted since the first man dived in, he was useless in reviving any of his colleagues and now all he could manage was short breaths – as if it were he who carried the burden of the sonic transportation.
Alger-alien’s warbling escalated into a thunderous crescendo when finally sparks broke through the sludgy wash. His submerged ammonite slowly materialised, electricity cracking away from it. It was his time. He took hold of the edge of the tank to pull himself up. His voice had to remain steady and strong until he jumped in. Poised for his entry, Arn leapt in ahead of him. Splash! Alger-alien shrieked. What was Arn doing? Spasms contorted Arn’s body. Sheila and Jason clambered to pull him out. His body kept whirling away from their grasp. Alger-alien shrieked repeatedly. Fear. Horror. Loss. Alger-alien was doubled over. Harrowing emotions were rising through his abdomen. What to do? Fishing Arn out took longer than the others. When they got him on the floor, both siblings worked on him.
Then Sheila remembered her ammonite. Removing it from around her neck, she threw it to Alger-alien. He dropped it in the water and began humming. The low vibration of his mantra rounded the hall like a meditation. It rang in their ears and pulsed through their heads. Arn was oblivious to everything. Jason banged hard on the older man’s sternum. He pushed and breathed for him. But Arn wasn’t coming to.
Alger-alien’s voice kept changing keys in quick succession and increasing volume as he tried to emulate the fugue of his lapsed choir of five. He warbled from bass to alto, from baritone to soprano and tenor in deafening succession. The windows tapped in their sills. They were pressed to buckle by the changing air pressure in the hall. Would they?
Plosh! Alger’s body was floating in the tank.
“Jason!” Sheila screeched. Her brother wasn’t moving fast enough. Arn wasn’t reviving. Jason was reluctant to give up on him just yet. Sheila ran, grabbed Arn’s pick, and smashed the tank. Water and glass exploded onto the floor. Algernon’s body washed out of the tank. She rolled it away from the debris, cleared his throat passage and banged his chest. His body jerked.
“We’ve gotta go.” The museum’s alarm system had been triggered. Jason pulled Sheila up, then checked on Algernon’s breathing. “He’ll live.” He fetched Arn’s pick and they left through the drain, entering the catchment.
The tiled tunnel of Museum Station echoed with the babble of waiting commuters. The vandals of the Museum couldn’t risk being seen. They waited for the train to come and go in the rented wall. It was travelling in the same direction they were. They crept along the brickwork burrow after it, knowing that as the subway was no longer a circuit, it would only stop a couple of times before it returned. They didn’t know of anywhere they could shelter when it did. They ran.
When the train stopped, they slowed. Had it reached St James? Was it changing tracks to head down to Martin Place? Would they be able to hear a change in its motion if it was coming back up? Would they feel its different vibrations on the sleepers and up through their feet? Yes, they could. It was still at a distance. Into the pitch they ran towards St James. Their sight overwhelmed by nothingness, the predictability of each sleeper beneath them, their only guide and solace. Plank to plank they flew. Subtle relief in glints flicked into the black void came glossing over Art Deco tiles before they realised that they’d run recklessly far into the station.
“Hey! Get off the tracks. Back up here!” A security guard was leaning over the platform escarpment. They were being motioned closer into the light. He reached down to pull Jason up. The surly guard was alone.
“Gotta death-wish? Trains are running.”
Taking hold of the guard’s hand, Jason strategically put both feet on the perpendicular rise of the platform. The guard was forced to lean back to stop from face-planting forward. Both men were locked in a hold maintained by levying their bodyweight in opposite directions.
But Jason didn’t. He let go instead. The guard fell backwards and he and Sheila bolted past the platform, still on the tracks, and into the sheltering blackness on the other-side.
Here the vibrations from the track had changed. The train was approaching. Its rumble grew with their every pace. Had it passed the exchange? If they could get there before it did, they could wait on the other side until it passed.
But, Jason slowed down and bent over.
“I’ve got a stitch.”
“C’mon.” She pulled him along.
Clap! Clap! Bang! Echoed down the tunnel as the train passed over the intersecting tracks. Its approach rumbled up their feet. They threw their torch beams up the brick walls looking for service doors or any kind of alcove they could shelter in. There was nothing, just shallow buttresses. Would they be enough? Madly wanting to block their ears against the barrelling roar they flattened their torsos to the wall on either side of the protruding brickwork. The train passed and kept passing and passing, spraying them with grease. Its wind drag teased their bodies away from safety. Peeling away, they snapped their heads back to the wall, once, twice. After each tiny release it was harder to stay true against the wall. Carriage after carriage screamed its own cry by. Finally, it was gone. They’d make it. The exchange was just up ahead. No more trains, just a sludgy tunnel. From there it was back up the ladder and they would be in the catchment by the theatre in no time.
Squeezing up through the drain into the Dungeon, they went to her office. She printed out the company list and madly started calling. There’s been an incident. Alger is in trouble. Call an ambulance to the Museum. Don’t mention any names. She knew his Hyde Park henchmen would need more than one ambulance. On the busiest night of the year, she had to make sure this distress message was responded to immediately. She showered, changed and waited for a phone call. It came. There’s been an accident. Would she mind coming into St Vincent’s to identify a patient? Relief – patient, not body. Jason drove her there. Yes, she was Mrs. Spires. No, she couldn’t identify the others. She never did learn Arn’s real name. She couldn’t help them with any personal information about him, for he never shared any.
She spent the night waiting to see if Alger would pull through. Waiting to see who would wake – the alien or the human. At some point she fell asleep. When she woke, his respirator had been removed. ‘Nil by mouth’ was written on the whiteboard strip that also bore his doctor’s name. He had a drip in his arm. His ribs were bandaged. His skin was peeling. There was bruising from his neck down to his chest and he was in a heavy sleep. She drew the curtains around his bed.
When Jason arrived midmorning, the curtains were still cocooning the bed. His sister was asleep in a courtesy chair. Algernon hadn’t woken. Reports of the museum vandalism were all over the media. Most of the others had woken up. All were suffering from exhaustion and treated for decompression sickness. They claimed not to remember what happened. No hint of drugs was found in their systems although they were known for substance abuse. Had they been checked for radiation poisoning, a different story may have emerged. But they weren’t. Their family members were being located.
When a police officer arrived to check on Algernon’s ability to answer questions, it was Jason who spoke with them. Yes, that was his sister’s phone number on Algernon’s arm. Yes, they were estranged. His sister was spending New Year’s Eve at a house party at his flat. He drove her into the city when the call came from the hospital. He asked them what his in-law/outlaw brother-in-law was mixed up with at the museum. He never knew him to be a vandal before. Come to think of it, his bother-in-law didn’t much like water either.
The officer responded to Jason’s chatty openness. No-one could make sense of what happened to the exhibit. One possibility was that the glass tank imploded under pressure. The sea-cucumbers had all died and so had Arn. Arn’s ammonite was around his neck when they found him. There was no mention of any other ammonite fossil in the debris. Jason took the officer’s calling card, assured him that he would pass it on and waved him off.
“Thank you,” Sheila said as she got up and pushed the curtain aside to make room.
“D’you think Arn made it?” Jason asked her.
Alger-alien’s words came back to her. Would she sacrifice a lesser life to save her people? Was he referring to the sea-cucumbers or Arn? She shivered.
“Who knows? He can’t exactly, ‘phone home’.”
But Arn was free. As free as a nautilus navigating through cool, churning waters. Awed and humbled by the sights and sounds that he could explore and the companions he could finally, fully relate to, he burst into song. Whooshing himself gustily through the extra sub-terrestrial waters beneath Europa’s icy ocean caps, he spared not a thought for those he’d left back on Earth. Life was good.
“Is Spatchcock gonna be okay?”
“What are you going to do?”
“Depends on who wakes up.”
“My bro-in-law the alien. Now, there’s a conversation starter.”
“That won’t happen.”
“And if it’s Alger?”
“I don’t know . . . It depends. . . ”
“You don’t need to go through all that shit again, Sis. None of us do.” Jason eyed Algernon’s drip.
“It’s just saline. He’s suffering from exhaustion and a severe case of the bends. They want to give him a psychological assessment.”
“Glad they said it, not me.”
Jason left with promises to check in on them soon. Over the next couple of hours Algernon started shifting around, half opening his eyes and drifting back into sleep. Sheila dozed on and off, happy to prolong the moment when she would learn who her vigil had been with. It early afternoon before a nurse came in and forced the situation.
“It’s a beautiful day,” she said and pushed open the ward curtains. Light flooded Alger’s bed. He winced and turned away from it, taking Sheila’s hand with him. Looking at what he held, he turned back to the light. Tears streamed down his eyes.
“You’re here,” he rasped, fire burning his throat as he spoke. He pulled her face close to his and gazed into her eyes. He saw no judgement there, just expectation. Her warmth gave him courage.
“I love you,” he offered.
He was hoping for more. He waited. If she voiced it aloud she would come undone. She was going to be cautious but didn’t want to close any deals without setting the terms.
“I quit my job.”
“I know,” he said, slowly running his fingers over her cheeks, her chin, her lips.
“How much of the last couple of weeks?
“You couldn’t tell the difference?”
“He was you, A broken you. A messed up, weird kind of you. He was a ‘you’ that I thought I could put back together… Your Mum knew. She never had hope that you could go clean. I wanted him to be you so badly.”
“I meant the hair…lank, old man, the Salvos couture, just the look for my next casting call,” he teased her.
She sat on the mattress beside him. Shoulder to shoulder, leg to leg, they held hands. He pressed her hand against his lips. Extending her left arm before them with his own beside it, he splayed out their fingers. A white line high around his ring finger indicated where his wedder had sat.
“I never took mine off.”
“So it would seem. I was going to get around to remodelling mine.”
“Not with sea fossils, I hope.”
“No, they have a better ring around the throat. I can’t recall where I put them.”
“They’re in that little trinket box in the top drawer of the dresser.”
“What a nosey alien you were.”
“I was hoping that you’d wear them again.”
Sheila responded with caution, “I can’t go through the darkness again.”
Algernon relied with equanimity, “I promise, you never will.”
Sheila remained silent. She couldn’t answer straight away. Her life was about to change again and she had to digest it. Algernon held his breath. Any reasoning woman would say no. She was such an incredibly strong woman. She deserved more than what he had put her through. She started to cry. It would be okay if she said no. He pressed kisses on her tears. He couldn’t love her less.