He wasn’t really there. The street was long and dark and pierced at intervals by streetlights. Jasmine was heavy on the night air and as they drew closer to the beach you could smell the salt coming from the ocean. She was laughing; it was always like that with her, as though everything he did was a joke. But John kept butting in.
Raymond had had enough; usually he’d participate in the game all afternoon at the hostel, and every night, and every other time he happened to see John at the hostel or around the hostel, or if he ran into him in The Junction.
“Hey Ray!” John was grinning, he could tell from his voice.
“Oh… shut up John!”
Janet was laughing so he thought he may as well join in, he didn’t want her to think he was a spoil-sport but, really, he needed to be alone with Janet. The others where half a block behind them, and Ray wished John was back there too, but he wouldn’t go; he clung, like dogshit clings to your shoe.
Ray stopped and turned to John.
“Oh… what is it John?”
John laughed and Ray shook his head and walked ahead fast. He wanted to be alone with Janet. Even though it was no good, even though he was already taken…he wished he could just dump Helen but she was overseas, in a strange country he couldn’t just dumb her like that…unless, if Janet would just reach out like she had on Thursday, this time he wouldn’t waste the moment.
“C’mon Janet, that fool’s going to keep it up all night, lets go – I’ll race ya to the baths.”
She laughed. Again he didn’t even have to try, everything he said to her was miraculously hilarious. She burst out laughing and he frowned and shook his head.
“You’re as bad as John!”
She laughed again, like she had on Thursday afternoon. After they had been to the beach, after the storm and they had run back together to the hostel. She had laughed nearly all the way, half doubled over as she ran.
“You’re a lunatic,” he kept stopping to tell her, keeping up the serious pretence that he knew would set her off again, and they ran on while the thunder rolled over head. Before they were half way home rain was falling in sheets. It was wonderful. The rain was so heavy they could hardly see the hostel and then, under the sheltered porch, they watched it for a minute falling in one sheet like a waterfall while they stood dripping on the cement. They parted in the foyer and went to their separate rooms but fifteen minutes later, after he had dried himself and changed his clothes, he heard a knock at his door. She was standing there, drying her hair with a towel and when he opened the door, she pushed past him and sat on his bed.
The rooms where tiny in the hostel. There was hardly enough space for the bed and the desk and the chair, the wardrobe was built into the wall. Raymond closed the door and sat on the chair and Janet did the usual thing; she sat there on the bed and surveyed the room and then she commented on the untidy state of his affairs.
“Don’t you ever clean your room?”
She’d fix her eyes on the charcoal drawings of lovers that were blue-tacked to the walls and frown at the dirty finger smudges on the white walls that he had left behind when he put them up.
“No, I’m not going to clean the walls.”
“How did you know I was going to say that?”
“You say it every time.”
She pretended to sulk at that. Her face wasn’t exactly pretty, it was pretty enough but what was most attractive where her eyes, they were full of mischief, you could tell she was always thinking up new schemes.
There were footsteps behind them as John struggled to keep up. He wanted to take her hand and shout but he wasn’t really there, something held him back. It was like everything was an enormous struggle now, as though he was moving through water.
“Would you like to have something to eat now?”
“Raymond?” She shook her head. She was frowning at him.
“I’m alright,” he said and he was – it was as though now he was suddenly free. He grabbed her hand. “I’m alright!” he shouted. Somewhere behind them a dog broke out barking and Janet started laughing again.
“Hey Ray?” It was John, he had caught up again.
They smiled at each other and he was sure she understood how he felt. Of course she did; she must have felt the same. It was about twenty metres to the beach, Raymond knew John hated running. He raised his eyebrows.
“Let’s go!” he shouted and as John said again, “Hey Ray,” they suddenly raced down the street towards the beach.
“Oh, I see, I’m predictable now, am I?”
Raymond sat on the chair and he looked at her. ‘Yes, you are,’ he thought, ‘I bet something’s going to happen now.’ Her eyes gave everything away.
“What are you smiling at, Mister?”
“Nothing.” He tried to make the smile go away but instead it grew bigger. She glared at him and turned her head once more to study the charcoal drawings on the wall.
“It’s a bit rude isn’t it?”
She didn’t know anything about art.
“No, it’s a drawing of two lovers.” Raymond stated in a somewhat superior tone. “I hardly see there’s anything rude about it.”
“Yeah right, he’s got his hand between her legs.”
“You’ve got a dirty mind – that’s not his hand – that’s the arm of the chair,” he frowned at the picture, “… well it’s supposed to be.”
Janet didn’t bother to answer that, she just looked at him, until he shook his head and stared at the floor and shook with laughter. Something suddenly hit him in the head. It was Janet’s thong.
“Didn’t predict that did you?
He threw it back and she leapt at him.
That was the moment he wasted. After they had wrestled for a minute, there was a pause, they were on the bed still holding each others arms but had suddenly, inexplicably stopped and there was something in her face, she had let her guard down, her hair was a mess and, just for a second she seemed to look at him tenderly, without any banter or pretence, as if to say “kiss me now”. But he didn’t, he still thought of himself as being with Helen. He had promised her he would wait for her. He wasn’t really there. He wasn’t in the moment enough to let it happen, but if it did just happen, like it had on Thursday, and he ended up kissing her, well, then it wasn’t really his fault, was it? It had just happened. These things do happen. He’d be honest about it to her, he’d write. No he’d have to phone…
Though they were running, things were slowing down and Raymond wondered what the hell was going on. It was like everything was moving through water again. It was a struggle to keep focused on Janet but he knew it was urgent, somehow, to do so. And that light, it was like light was forcing itself on them but from a long way away, like light seen from the bottom of a clear pool. He looked around and the edge of the city, where it met the shore and he knew the beach spread out, was still in darkness. The edge of the city was still pierced by street lights, but there was something wrong; the darkness was fading like watercolour and Janet was saying something that he couldn’t hear. And he had that feeling, like when you are tired and you want to go to sleep but light is getting in somewhere and stopping you sleeping.
“Raymond – its dinner time, would you like something to eat?”
“Raymond, let go your hurting my hand!”
She was looking at him as though he was scaring her and he dropped her hand.
“Shit, sorry…I don’t know my own strength,” he said weakly, trying to pass it off as a joke but he was worried. What the hell was going on?
Janet shook her head.
“Raymond – you are one weird boy!”
He looked at her and suddenly it was alright again. Everything was alright so long as he was with her. They both broke out laughing. He wanted to kiss her then and he reached out for her hand. She took it and she looked down the street behind them. They could hear the others.
“Hey! Wait up! Fuck man I hate running!” John was out of breath. “Hey! What the hell! What are you running for?”
But then, as they ran under the streetlight ahead of him John saw that their hands were joined and he understood. He smiled and shook his head.
“About fucking time.” He said to himself but then he had a brainwave…
“Janet and Raymond sitting in the tree K-I double S –I-N-G!
First comes love, then comes marriage!
Then comes Janet with a baby’s carriage!”
Though he sang it at the top of his voice they didn’t hear him, they were running too fast and the sound of their feet and their breathing drowned out his voice.
They slowed as they rounded the bend and the lights burned into the night above Merewether baths. It was strangely still. The cliff rose like a wall of darkness above
them and, spread out beyond the lights, was the ocean. They walked hand in hand down the slope. There was no one in the ocean baths at this time of night. The changing rooms where empty and their gates were locked. They walked slowly now but he knew they only had a couple of minutes before the others would arrive. John would be saying “Hey Ray!” like an idiot every five minutes and he’d have to play along but all the time he just wanted …
Suddenly she whipped him with her towel. He tried to grab her and they grappled near the shallow pool. He pushed her against one of the poles that held the lights. She stopped struggling but she looked pleased with her self.
“So? Now what?” She challenged him.
He bent over her. Her eyes were sparkling.
“You know you’ll have to get rid of that girlfriend of yours,” she said before he kissed her. She laughed and slipped away from him. She ran around the pole. He watched as she danced over towards the deep pool. He was vaguely aware that behind him figures were moving down the slope. He didn’t turn; he knew they where his friends and when they started singing he guessed John had seen them holding hands on the way and had told the others. Paula was whistling and Todd was yelling something crude.
“Janet and Raymond sitting in the tree F-U-C-K-I-N-G!
First comes love, then comes marriage!
Then comes Janet with a baby’s carriage!”
“Shut up you arsehole!” Janet yelled back and when Raymond laughed she pushed him into the water. She took a run up and jumped in. He wanted to kiss her but, again, he wasn’t really there. The others were leaping in all around him and he was aware of their splashes and the water was thrashing but the voices were fading and that other thing, the merciless light, was breaking over everything. He tried to keep hold of Janet’s hand but then he remembered how he hurt her before when he wouldn’t let go and he dropped it. She swam a little way, turned back and smiled at him and then she was gone.
The light hurt his eyes. He knew he was back. A nurse was attaching a napkin to his neck and the light kept getting brighter. The nurse disappeared but she returned a minute later pushing a bedside table that she positioned in front of him and lowered to the right level.
“I’ll just get your meal,” she said and disappeared again.
They had sat him in the lounge room with its views over the park, where he liked to sit because nobody else used it but, still, there was something unreal about it all. Even the trees through the window were transparent like ghosts, and the walls of the lounge room where white and hung with prints of famous landscape paintings from a hundred years ago. The corridors in the nursing home, the nurses in their white uniforms coming and going, and the activities arranged to entertain the residents, meant nothing to him. Occasionally, if he was in the mood, he made a joke but he wasn’t really there.
He longed for the world of darkness. The lights that burned into the night above Merewether baths were orange. He could still hear their laughter and the sound of the waves crashing on the rocks out beyond the lights. He had to get back there as soon as he could.