david

Author: Dominica Ryan

Mum shoved the phone in front of David’s face, blocking his view of the last cornflake as it floated on shallow milk.

David clenched his teeth in annoyance. It was bad enough Mum had yanked the bedcovers off him, depriving him of discovering whether the alien princess would run him through with her photon-sword.

Mum always woke him ridiculously early. Today she’d pulled him out of bed at 10.59am. Now she wouldn’t let him finish his cereal in peace.

‘Kyla messaged,’ Mum said. ‘She wants to meet you. She’s suggesting coffee Saturday morning at Subway on St. George’s Road, Thornbury.’ The old refrigerator in the corner of the kitchen struggled to reluctant life. ‘I think you should say yes.’

‘I can’t,’ David said, not wondering or caring who this Kyla might be. ‘I have an early shift at the car wash.’ He banged the spoon off the side of his favourite bowl, knocking out another ceramic chip.

Mum’s thin shoulders dropped. ‘You could meet her after. For a drink. Take her someplace nice on Brunswick Street. Or maybe into the city.’

David thought fast: ‘Sanjay might need me to do extra shifts if some of the other guys don’t show up.’

Mum drew the phone screen close to her face, scrolled for a few seconds, bit down on her lip. ‘I just have a good feeling about Kyla. She seems nice. Genuine. It would be great to see you with a lovely girl, David. Someone who loves you for all your qualities.’

David knew that if he looked at his Mum, he’d notice new lines on her forehead, cheeks sunken further than last time, the grey reaching across the top of her head which would meet in the middle soon.

‘Rent’s due next week,’ she conceded. ‘We could do with the cash you make Saturday.’

‘What happened to the extra I made last week?’ he asked. ‘You said that covered us.’

Mum’s narrow lips blew out air. ‘Oh, you know how it is. One thing led to another and…’ her voice trailed off, leaving David’s query hanging. David lifted the bowl to his face, slurping down the milk and the solitary limp cornflake. He knew all his mum’s expressions. Some of them made his pasty skin crawl – like “one thing led to another”. Hearing that particular phrase triggered an avalanche of questions which, over the years, his mum had always outpaced, ducked or skirted like a skier in a slalom. She rolled out ready-made, empty phrases, appearing to answer his questions while leaving them unanswered. Questions like: why did David’s father leave when he was five years old? Why did she jump every time she heard a door slam? Why did they move every few years? David thought it utterly preposterous that “one thing would lead to another” would ever apply to him. His life wasn’t that neat. It should be, but it wasn’t.

Then, one thing did lead to another. It all happened at internet speed, just as he was moving the bowl from his lips to the table. Kyla sent a message meant for one of her friends to David’s phone. It mentioned a dream, which his mum now read.
‘Strange dream Kyla has had about an alien,’ Mum mused aloud as she read the message.

David grabbed the phone. Stared. Thought deeply. It must be a sign. An alien dream. Aliens with photon-swords. Kyla could be the one he’d been waiting for. Someone who would understand. Someone he could talk to. Finally.
‘OK,’ David said.

Mum smiled.

*

The dark faux-wood table in Subway that Saturday morning was wet. David massaged his

coffee cup, dumbstruck.

Kyla was talking.

‘I knew from your very first message that you were honest.’ She pulled at the faded blue and white scarf around her short neck, tightening then loosening it, shifting her rounded frame on the chair. She leaned across the table, still damp from the cloth used by the waiter who cleared the table. A coffee machine hissed in the background, while a young mum called out to a grubby-faced toddler to stay away from the front door. Kyla’s brown, deep-set eyes drank David in. ‘I memorised all your messages.’

‘I memorised all the dialogue in the movie Star Trek: Nemesis,’ said David.

Her right hand landed gently on his left forearm. ‘Some of your messages made me cry,  like, when you wrote that being in groups of people is hard for you.’

‘It is.’
‘How the things you want to say always come out the wrong way.’
‘Mum tells me that constantly.’
‘How people judge you,’ Kyla said, ‘but if they took the time to get to know you

they’d see you were a nice person.’

‘Mum says that too.’

‘You seem very close to your Mum, David.’
He nodded. ‘I live with her. In Preston. But we’ve lived all over the country.’

A slow, unsure smile crept across Kyla’s face. She straightened up in her chair,

released his forearm. ‘I dated my last boyfriend for 15 months. He stayed over at my place a lot. If we went out, went to the footy, I always paid. He said child support was killing him. When he stayed over, he got up with me in the morning, had breakfast, we’d get ready, leave for work together.’ She traced a figure eight on the still-wet table with her index finger. ‘I found out he didn’t have a job. Or a kid. He was living with his folks in Essendon.’ She paused. ‘I’m not used to guys being honest about themselves.’ A blush spread across her cheeks, a deepening pink stain. ‘People should be honest with each other. They should be radical about it. Do you know what I mean?’

‘No,’ David said.
Kyla shot him a quizzical glance, then a joyous smile burst across her face.
‘See, that’s what I’m talking about. You practice radical honesty David. That’s why I

suggested we meet.’

David smiled back at her.

‘I want people in my life who tell me the truth no matter how uncomfortable that makes me. I’ll do the same in return.’ Kyla cleared her throat. ‘So, ask me anything David. Anything at all.’

A flutter of excitement awakened like a caged bird in David’s chest. ‘Tell me about the alien.’

Kyla furrowed her brow.

‘The alien you mentioned in the message that you sent to me. The message you meant to send to someone else.’

‘Why do you want to know about that?’ she asked.
‘I dream about aliens every night.’
‘Well, you’re really into sci-fi movies, so I guess that’s to be expected.’
‘Mum said not to ask you. She said you’d find me talking about aliens weird. But you

said people should be honest with each other.’

‘For sure.’

David reached across the narrow table, placing his hand on hers. He lowered his voice to a whisper. ‘Kyla, what if your dream about the alien wasn’t a dream. What if the dream is the reality and all this,’ with his forehead David indicated the café, the universe, everything. ‘What if this world is the made up one, the fiction?’

 

Their coffee date ended at 10.39am, leaving David 21 minutes to walk to the carwash for his 11am shift. He messaged Kyla six times, telling her secrets of the universe he hadn’t had the time to share earlier. In the first hour of his shift, Sanjay, his boss, yelled at him twice for messaging when he was supposed to be wiping vehicles. ‘You’re holding up the line. I catch you checking your phone again, you’re out of here, mate.’

‘Sorry,’ David pushed the phone into the front pocket of his damp jeans. ‘I was checking if I got a message.’

‘From your girlfriend?’ Sanjay’s scrawny arm made sudsy circles on the driver’s door of a black sedan.

‘She’s not my girlfriend.’
‘You getting married when she gets out of the insane asylum?’ Sanjay grinned.

‘She’s not in an asylum. She works in Myer. In the homewares section. In

Northland.’
Sanjay shook excess soap from the oversized sponge. ‘Just do what I’m paying you

for.’
When David arrived home after his double shift, Mum was asleep on the broken

couch, exhausted from vacuuming kilometres of grey-carpeted offices in the city. Still no reply from Kyla, despite sending her a total of forty-six messages since their date.

David sloped off to his room to re-watch a couple of old Star Trek movies, falling asleep on the bed covers with his clothes on.

The following morning, Mum was perched on the end of his single bed. As David slowly woke and stretched, she was tapping furiously on his phone.

‘Is there a message from Kyla?’ he rubbed the sleep from his eyes.
‘Forget about her, David,’ her tiny fingers danced nimbly across the screen.

‘Why?’ He pushed himself up to sitting. ‘Kyla said listening to me telling her about

aliens was really something.’
‘Well, one thing led to another and now I know she’s not right for you.’
‘Did she message?’
‘I deleted it.’
‘What did Kyla say?’
‘It’s not important.’
‘Mum!’
‘Oh, I don’t remember David. Something about not being that interested in alien life

forms. Something about your messages yesterday triggering anxiety.’

‘What…’

‘You don’t want to go out with a girl with an anxiety issue David! You don’t know what she’d do.’ Mum thrust the phone towards him. Smiled. ‘But look, a girl called Sophie sent you a love heart just now. Her profile says she only watches sci-fi. Her friends think she’s a bit weird and she says she’s OK with that.’

David dropped his face into his hands.

‘Sophie has kind eyes,’ Mum said, putting her hand on David’s thigh. ‘She seems nice. Genuine. I have a really good feeling about her.’

Header image by Daniela Reape, courtesy of Pixabay

a love like you and me

Author: Daniela Abriola

I really shouldn’t have let my best friend set me up on a blind date.

They never work out well. Not even in movies. If it can’t even work for fictional characters, why would it work for me?

I don’t mind that I’m single, but my friends do. Just because they all have someone, doesn’t mean I need someone.

Life doesn’t have to be like a Taylor Swift song, dancing with your soulmate in the kitchen with nothing but the light from a refrigerator. It isn’t my kind of life. I’m fine on my own.

But no one can shield themselves from Ava. When she sets her mind to something, she doesn’t stop till she gets what she wants.

‘Rhys,’ she said. ‘I just want you to be happy.’

I wish I could believe her. I’m sure, deep down, she does want that for me. But I know that she’s tired of organising couples’ events and having me tag along. Sure, she tells me she doesn’t mind, but her constant murmurs of ‘oh, Rhys, I guess you can come too,’ tell me otherwise.

So here I am, sitting at a table in a small restaurant downtown that’s way too classy to be something I can afford. The number of forks place across the table is enough to make me feel inferior to everyone here. Why would I I let my date pick this restaurant for me?

I don’t know what this mystery girl looks like at all. Ava was so excited that I had (reluctantly) agreed to go on a date with her ‘super-hot friend from yoga class’, that she forgot to mentionany actual details. Apparently, she is ‘just my type’, but I’m 21-years-old, and I’ve been single for all of them. I don’t even know what my type is. Ava was persistent, however.

‘You’ll like her, trust me.’

Something about that phrase made me not want to trust her. But I promised.

There’s no sign of this ‘super-hot yoga friend’, and it’s fine. I’m fine. I got here early anyway.  But as the minutes tick by, the more restless I get.  I feel the endless need to fidget– if my hands were occupied then my anxiety would be gone, or at the very least, I could ignore it for a while. Well, that’s what I tell myself when I accidentally knock the pepper shaker all over the table. I wipe my hands on my jeans, trying to rid myself of the pepper grounds covering my skin. I wonder if maybe I am overdressed, but as I watch a couple walk into the restaurant, I realise that maybe I’m not dressed up enough. Either way, it’s too late to change my clothes now.

A slim figure moves from the corner of my vision and sits down on the chair in front of me. Her eyes are captivating. They’re  bright shade of emerald green. Jewels that seem so incomparable they make my heart skip a beat.

‘Hey,’ she says. ‘I’m Ashley.’

My phone screen lights up, alerting me that I’ve received a text. I check my phone discreetly.

From: Ava

How’s the date going?????????

Instinctively, I run my thumb across the silver ring on my middle finger, and I don’t stop until the cool metal band begins to settle me. Ava is desperate for this date to work. How can I tell her that Ashley is, despite first impressions, the most boring person I’ve ever met?

She spends the first ten minutes telling me about this ‘amazing’ juice cleanse she’s on. I don’t understand why she picked a restaurant for our date if she wasn’t going to eat anything, but I know better than to say anything.

In the next twenty minutes, she lectures me about the meat industry, telling me that I ‘really should go vegan’. There are a few choice words thrown in there – at one point she calls me a murderer for eating meat. Ashley spends so much time talking that I don’t get the chance to tell her I am, in fact, already vegan.

I can’t tell Ava that the date is worse than being on the Titanic. I’d rather be Jack, clinging on to that door for dear life, than have to listen to this girl tell me that ‘she doesn’t hate gay people’ she just wishes they ‘wouldn’t do it in front of her’. This would crush Ava. I mean, she is more invested in my love life than I am.

Ashley smiles. ‘This has been really fun.’

I try to keep a straight face. Fun for who?. This is the exact opposite of fun for me. But I don’t tell her that. Instead, I smile and nod my head.

‘Yeah.’

‘I’m just going to the bathroom,’ she says. I’m sure she also mentions something about freshly squeezed juice ‘going right through’ her, but at this point I’m too tired to care.

I must be more tired than I thought, because before I know it, she’s sitting across from me.

My first thought is, wow, that was fast. But when I see that it’s the waiter who seated me at my table, I stare at him questioningly.

‘I’m on my break right now. I thought you could use some saving,’ he says.

There’s no one else sitting at the table – it has to be me he’s talking to. But his words still catch me off guard.

‘Me?’

He pauses for a moment. ‘Yes, you.

‘Oh, I- uh, um,’ I stutter.

Yep, good one Rhys. That’s exactly how normal people speak.

‘It looked that bad?’ I ask. It sure felt bad.

‘I’ve seen many bad dates in my life, and that looked like one of them.’

He flashes me a smile, and oh. I realise that he’s gorgeous. He’s tall, with the softest brown eyes I’ve ever seen, and his hair is dark brown, with a sheen like parquetry flooring. That comparison isn’t entirely fair, actually. Parquetry flooring doesn’t move like this guy’s hair does, brushing softly around his face as he speaks. I’m trying not to stare, but honestly. He’s the most handsome guy I’ve ever seen.

‘Oh,’ I say. Oh? That’s the best you could come up with? Idiot.

He’s so hot, and my hands are sweating like never before.

It’s not a big deal. It’s fine.

Except it is. It’s a disaster, actually. Or possibly an epic shit-storm of a disaster, because how am I meant to tell Ava that I am more attracted to the waiter who had to explain what the different forks at my table were for, than I am her friend.

I haven’t considered that I might be gay, but I definitely couldn’t deny that sitting across from me is the hottest person I’ve ever seen. The more I think about it, the more the word gay makes sense to me.

‘Leon,’ he says, and I jump a little. I forgot that he’s still sitting in front of me. But he is, with his hand extended out for me to shake. 

I wonder if shaking hands is something that people still do, but then Leon laughs, and I realise I’ve said this out loud.

Shit.  

‘I’m Rhys,’ I awkwardly mumble.

‘You’re an interesting guy, Rhys,’ Leon smiles again.

Usually, I’d be a little offended by that. But the way he says it…it’s nothing less than endearing. Then he quickly looks me up and down. ‘And very good looking.’

There’s no doubt in my mind that this is inappropriate. This is his place of work, and my date will come back from the bathroom any minute now. But that doesn’t change the fact that I can’t feel my legs anymore, and my brain is not thinking in coherent sentences. He’s flirting with me, and I know for a fact that I’m grinning from ear to ear.

Maybe Leon senses that I’m having a hard time responding, because he doesn’t wait for me to make a complete fool of myself.

‘Well, Rhys,’ he says, stopping mid speech as his eyes travel to the bathrooms across the restaurant. Great. Ashley is walking back to the table.

In a matter of seconds, Leon pulls his notepad out from his apron and scrawls something down. ‘If your date is as bad as I think it is, you should call me. Hopefully, I can show you a better date than she did.’

Leon hands me the piece of paper with his number on it, and for the first time, I understand what all those Taylor Swift songs were about.

Featured image courtesy of Markus Spiske via Unsplash.

stains

 Author: Andrew Dopper

Featured image by anja, courtesy of Unsplash.

           The first of them arrived in 1963, soon after I came to be. They were so proud. They were a young couple who drove me from Sydney to Melbourne. He worked as a butcher and she had just finished school and wanted to become a nurse. Their names were Patrick and Heather. He worked for her father. They were so in love and so free. They were already fighting by the time they got to Wollongong.

            She wanted to drive down the coast, but he wanted to go see the capital. They arrived in Canberra early on a Sunday morning and everything was closed, and the fog was thick. They found a fish and chip shop that opened early and parked under a willow tree near the local football oval. They sat on my bonnet and she showed him how to make bracelets out of the willow vines and they talked about what they were going to name their children. She spilt Coca Cola on the seat laughing at fangs he had fashioned from two hot chips. They burnt his gums but he didn’t care, and the Coca Cola stain was the first of many stains.

          An old man walking a dog wandered by. Nice car mate, he said, that the new Holden? Heather patted the old man’s dog and Patrick answered, yeah, she’s a beauty, drivin’ down to Melbourne actually.

       The dog didn’t seem to like being petted and the old man said they should visit the National Museum. They said they would, but instead they drove to Batemans Bay. They bought some cannabis from a guy outside a pub and drove outside of town, down into a little picnic spot by the sea. They got high and listened to The Beach Boys on the radio and slept in the back seat. They were the first to sleep in the back seat. They drove from town to town until they got to Melbourne, where they lived in a rental atop of a milk bar. Patrick worked in a deli and Heather studied to become a nurse, but Patrick couldn’t get enough hours and Heather decided she hated sick people. One night they were driving home from the picture theatre and Heather said she wanted to hit the coast again and she wanted to travel, and the world was changing.Patrick said they had to start their careers and buy a house and have children.

            That was the first breakup.

            Patrick got an apprenticeship as a mechanic and met a girl named Sally. She was a hairdresser and loved when they played disco on my radio. She also liked new things. One day after work, Patrick sat on my bonnet making a bracelet from a willow vine and drinking beer and a co-worker said his little brother was looking to buy a car and Patrick said he was selling.

            That’s how Rodney got me.

            He worked at a hardware store in Collingwood and he liked when the radio played rock n’ roll. He drove fast and never changed the tires and spilt rum on the back seat when he was making out with a girl named Sandra. One night his mate went away to Adelaide to see family, and Rodney drove into the backyard and they sat around a fire and listened to Led Zeppelin and drank beer, and on the way home Rodney drove me into a post office box.

            He wasn’t allowed to drive me anymore.

            The next was another couple. Their names were Davo and Cass and they were from Geelong. They were musicians and sold plants at markets. One night after a Rod Stewart concert, they slept in the back seat. Nine months later Davo decided he had to get a job while Cass stayed home with their new baby. Davo got a job as a roadie and toured with The Angels and went to New Zealand with the band. They didn’t take me. One afternoon driving to the supermarket, Davo said he fell in love with the South Island and so they decided to move there. The baby vomited on the passenger seat right next to the Coca Cola stain and they laughed because the baby laughed.

            The next was Julie.

            Dunno, she said to her friend Amanda, I think they just wanted to get rid of it cos they were movin’ to New Zealand or something. That morning they drove to the beach and went for a swim. It was summer in Geelong and Amanda spilt sauce from her hamburger on the driver’s side seat, trying to turn up the new Guns N’ Roses song. They swam and swam and talked and swam and got into me while wet and drove with the window down. They were young and free. They drove around Geelong until dark and talked and got fish and chips for dinner.

          They didn’t want to go home. Their parents were both Catholic, they said, they wouldn’t understand. That night they slept in the back seat. One night they drove to Julie’s for dinner and they were nervous. They didn’t talk much. The dinner was short and Julie drove fast and Amanda cried. That was the last break up, though it didn’t last long. A week later they put all of their stuff in my back seat and drove and drove and drove. They found a unit in Echuca and Julie got a job as a waitress and Amanda became a kindergarten teacher. They went to the mechanic’s one day and changed my tires and my radio. They played Nirvana on cassette over and over. Their dinners with their parents became less upsetting.

            Then they sold me to Julie’s cousin Nick, from Wangaratta, for $800.

            He called me an “old bomb” and played punk music really loud and brushed ash from his cigarettes to my floor. He met a girl named Lisa at a Killing Heidi concert and she was a painter who played guitar. She spilt a strawberry Big M on the back seat next to the rum stain. They moved to Brisbane and swore they would, like, totally just surf and skate forever and chill out and it would be awesome. One night they slept in the back seat and nine months later Nick got a job as a landscaper. I sat in the garage for six years until they moved to Melbourne. When they got me back out Nick owned his own landscaping business and Lisa was a tattoo artist in Carlton.

         We should, like, do the car up, said Lisa one night, sitting on my bonnet smoking a cigarette while their daughter Ella rode up and down the driveway on her bike. They got me to an okay condition before they ran out of money when Ella started going to school.

            A widowed Italian man named Sam bought me next, but never got around to fixing me up like I used to be. He sold car parts on eBay. He tried to rub the stains out of my seat but gave up. One day when he was tinkering around in his garage, he sat on my bonnet to answer a phone call.

         Yeah, right, he said, you used to have one just like it, huh.

          Sam chatted to the other man for a while. Yeah, he said, I’m lookin to sell it, was gunna fix her up but you know how it is, she runs alright, yeah, she runs alright. Sam and the man on the phone chatted and Sam agreed to sell me to the man. The man arrived the next day at Sam’s door in a full suit and tie. He was an older man and said he’d gotten an Uber there and he’d take the car right away because he had to get to Sydney for a funeral.

            That was the first funeral I went to, but not the last.

            He got a coffee the morning of the funeral and decided it was too hot to wear a jacket, so he put it in the passenger seat and spilt his coffee right next to the Coca Cola stain. He drove to the church and waited under a willow tree. He made small talk with the funeral director in the car park.

            I worked for the man when I was a young bloke, he said. As a butcher. The funeral ended and he left. He noticed a woman admiring me even though I was rusted and worn and didn’t quite run right anymore. She had made a bracelet from a willow vine. He said he should have driven to the coast. She said they still can, and they would drive around the coast and that they wouldn’t stop this time because the world was changingShe had cancer, she said.

That night they slept in the back seat. They were the first to sleep in the back seat and also the last. They were already fighting by the time they got to Wollongong.