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Andy’s been sleeping all day. He sits there with his sunnies on, pretending to be awake, but I know that he’s really out of it. Andy loves his sunnies. I’ve never seen anybody wear sunnies so much. It’s like living with a blind man. Whenever I look at him, I keep expecting to see myself reflected in his lenses but then, when I turn to face him, it doesn’t look anything like me – all distorted and swollen – like there’s mad woman sitting here only I don’t know it.

Andy’s got heaps of sunnies and every pair is different. The ones with small round lenses, gold rims and tortoiseshell arms are the urban philosopher gone bush, cut adrift from his small take-aways and short blacks. He puts on a big wide pair with silver lenses and suddenly he’s gained a few pounds. He’s got slicked back hair, a loud Hawaiian shirt and an early release for good behaviour. The Wayfarers make him moody. With white T-shirt and blue Levis, he’s clinging to his cultural icons on a one-way street to nowhere. Every encounter has to be meaningful.

Most of the time he wears the wraparounds with fluorescent green trim. They’re his favourites. He’s keen and focused like a downhill skier with his nose into the wind. He stays really still so it’s hard to tell if he’s awake or asleep. Eventually though, his head starts to sag and a thin line of spittle abseils from the corner of his mouth.

I’m free to do my own thing then. I sit behind a caravan, slip-streaming in its blind spot, and when we reach a slope, I swing out alongside. Nobody can tell what might be heading towards us. I hold it there for a while, keeping us level and then just before we reach the crest, I duck in front and pull away. Those white-haired old flakies are staring at me and flashing their lights like crazy. Andy’s head is slumped against the side window so it looks like I’m escaping with a stiff. All I’ve got to do is lean across, pull the door lever and he’s gone. Just a slab of meat lying in the road. Perhaps he wakes up as the caravan hits him.

It reminds me of the time when Andy taught me how to do a handbrake turn. We spent half the night ripping up the K-Mart car park. It was our favourite car park too – big and wide with an uncertain surface. Eventually the cops came along and flashed a light on us. By that time, I was black and blue from being slammed against the door, the dashboard and the steering wheel. It was the best whiplash ever.

We spent a lot of time in car parks back then, screeching up concrete ramps, hearing the roar of the motor echo off the low ceiling, watching the brake lights flare against the painted yellow numbers. We were waiting to hit an oil patch, clip a reinforced column, sideswipe a hatchback, but it never happened. As we neared the top, I leant across and dug my nails into his cheek, watching his eyes for a flicker of response as the light from a fractured neon lamp tracked across his face.

That was about as good as it got. I thought he was nasty, I thought he was cruel, I thought he was an odious wanker in a sleek sedan. I guess if I hadn’t hit him, none of this would have happened. Then again, I’ve always liked the idea of pleading guilty. Nobody could ever accuse me of diminished responsibility.

The man at the service station feels the weight of his actions too, the consequences of a chance encounter that he firmly believes was of his own making. If only he had locked the door... If only he had kept his till shut... If only he had a gun...

‘What’s the matter?’ says the woman.

‘Nothing,’ says the man.

He is lying on the settee watching television, barely moving. When the time comes to go to work, he continues to lie there, staring at the screen. The room grows dark and the woman comes in to take her place on the settee. But still the man is there.

‘Come to bed,’ says the woman.

The man doesn’t care what he watches. It’s all the same to him. He submerges himself in the soaps, lost in a world where it is always night, even during the day. Time becomes sluggish and begins to warp. There is no ambient sound in this world. He cannot go outside. Outside does not exist.

There are many people with him in this world, a place where everybody knows everybody else. They are all kept busy coming and going but working hours and mealtimes remain flexible. There is no daily grind. Instead, everybody talks all the time. Men talk to women and women talk to men. Women and women talk to men. Men and men talk to women. Men and women talk to men and/or women. If anybody is in trouble then somebody always knows somebody who knows what to do. If somebody is hurt then somebody else always has a good idea who is responsible.

The man learns about wanting to talk things through. He appreciates the danger of bottling things up inside. He witnesses the value of being open and communicative. He realises that irresponsible sex is never laughable. He understands that people can get hurt. These are valuable lessons.

Upstairs the woman lies alone on the bed, staring at the ceiling. She watches the light grow dim and then brighten again, listening to the constant cacophony of people coming and going. Plane lands. Train passes. Plane takes off. Bus stops. Motorbike revs. Car parks. The black cat trots into the room and looks at the woman lying on the bed. ‘Yes?’ says the cat, then bends over and attempts to lick its anus.

The woman gets off the bed and pads softly downstairs. She stands in the doorway of the sitting room and looks at the man lying on the settee. The television is on with the sound turned down. The man’s body is shaking slightly, like the slow vibration of an idling motor. His mouth is drawn tight in a painful grimace and his eyes are squeezed shut. There are shiny trails of tears on his face which glisten in the soft light of the television. From this angle, in this light, his body seems quite protean, soft and malleable, as if undergoing a metamorphosis. Gradually the convulsions subside and he opens his mouth to draw in air.

‘What’s the matter?’ says the woman. The man lets out a long sigh.

‘Nothing,’ he says.

‘Why are you crying?’ says the woman.

‘I’m not,’ says the man. ‘I’m laughing.’

The man is watching sporting highlights from somewhere far away. Today’s events happened last night or early this morning, even though it is still yesterday where they took place. A pole vaulter sprints down the runway and launches himself into space. He rises up and up as the pole straightens until he reaches the height of the cross bar. Then, at the last moment, he forgets to let go of the pole. He clings to it, hanging in the air like a limp flag. The crowd gasps. All eyes are on him. The pole vaulter starts to wriggle, frantically trying to propel himself forward on to the soft mattress below. Then slowly, agonisingly, he begins to topple backwards, gathering speed and crashing to earth like a bird shot from the sky.

The woman watches the man for a while and then moving quickly, almost without thinking, she walks down the hallway, opens the front door and leaves the house, slamming the door behind her.

This is the first time I have seen her outside the house. She stands on the pavement, looking in one direction and then the other, deciding which way to go, and then starts to walk slowly along the street, carefully inspecting all the houses and the passing traffic. It is bright and dusty out here, the air filled with the noisy reverberations of semi-trailers stopping and starting. The woman seems so small and fragile in comparison.

She passes a playground where a man is throwing a small child into the air and catching it. He holds the child upside down and spins it around. The child screams and the man does it again – up and down, up and down, throw and catch – whirling the child around and around. Don’t let go, Daddy, don’t...

On a factory wall somebody has written

The woman sees a man coming towards her along the street. The man is laughing and talking to himself. He is being loud and boisterous. As he approaches, the woman notices that, rather than being alone, the man is with a companion who was momentarily hidden from view behind a lamp post. The woman is relieved to see that the man was not alone after all. He was talking and laughing with someone else all along. She wonders why this should matter and is annoyed with herself for feeling relieved.

The woman stops at a pedestrian crossing and watches a group of people cross from one side of the road to the other. The traffic noses forward, trying to find a point of weakness, the merest hint of division among the ranks of pedestrians. The woman moves to cross the road and then falters. In an instant, the traffic senses her hesitation. Engines rev, encouraging, cajoling, intimidating the woman to surrender her right of way. She waits. She can see what the traffic wants her to do. She is well aware of its intentions. She waits until the very last moment, the point at which she must abandon the crossing for good, and then steps off the pavement. Instantly, the traffic backs down, engines subside, brake lights flare. The woman is allowed to cross. More pedestrians follow her, flow past. The crossing is secure.

The woman is in the heart of the city now, riding the escalators. From Ladieswear to Menswear, Hardware to Homeware, she stands sedately on her metal platform, rising and sinking through the levels, watching herself in the mirrors for any sign of change. In Glassware and Kitchenware on the fifth floor, she discovers rows of wine glasses arranged neatly on glass shelves, packed together tightly in little groups of four like TV families. The woman walks up and down the rows, inspecting the glasses. She leans towards them, searching for any sign of imperfection or a hidden flaw. As she does so, she hears a high, feeble ringing note, barely audible above the chumpa-chump of the in-store music. It is like a distress call from outer space, faint but unmistakable. The note drifts and flutters around the delicate stems and thin lips of the glasses. The woman examines each glass, trying to locate the source of the ringing, but wherever she looks, it only seems to move elsewhere. She leans a little closer, hoping to catch it...

‘Yes? Can I help you? Were you looking for anything in particular?’

Andy’s head is vibrating against the window now. It looks like he’s having a fit. I think about giving him a shake but just then, he wakes with a start and I pretend to be watching the road. I know he’s watching me now but I’m not going to give him the satisfaction of letting him know that I know it.
Sometimes when he’s facing me, he’ll take a photograph. I’m still facing the front, watching where we’re going, and he’s looking right across me. I don’t ever look at the camera. Maybe I glance sideways slightly when I go to ash the cigarette. All those photos must look the same. You could shuffle them up and it wouldn’t make any difference.

Let’s face it, there are only so many ways of looking at this journey. I can look sideways and see everything we pass. The stuff which is nearest to us passes real fast, almost before I can make sense of it, but the stuff in the distance, like a mountain or whatever, takes forever. Or I can look at where we’ve been, watching everything disappear from view. That takes even longer. When we go round a bend or down a slope, the world slides around us. We’re motionless at its centre. Then again, I can watch where we’re going. It looks the same as the stuff behind us except it’s slowly moving closer. At the last moment though, it always swings away and something else takes its place. I guess that’s what keeps us going.



Further down the track, I stop the car in the middle of nowhere. It’s nearly midday and the sun has drained all colour from the earth and sky. The horizon is floating above the earth as usual and there’s a row of dark trees in the distance like a vague scribble. Even wearing Andy’s goggle glasses, which look like some kind of souvenir from Maralinga, everything is brighter and harder than ever. It’s almost a total white-out.

A willy-willy moves across the ground, leaning over then snapping upright like a drunk making his way home.