The sun touched water in aquamarine

Her shiny skin and footsteps in sand

Walking along the shore

He asked her to marry him

And they jumped toward the sea

Drowned by waves of joy

The sun left no shadows

Only the tide, a shell, a sparkling pebble

And the memory of water

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Robert fixed a coffee. The coffee was warm and sweet. It twinged his teeth, settling beside a decaying molar. His tongue surveyed the surface of his tooth.

Enough of that. Time to leave. He slipped into his shoes and noticed dots of dust on the carpet. Who knows where dust comes from, dead skin? He moved his vacuum cleaner from the cupboard and placed it in the hallway as a reminder, then went out the door and walked toward the train station.

Catching the train meant sharing space with strangers. There was no avoiding it.

Shuffling, scratching, squinting. A panic darted through his head. His hand grasped the rail more tightly and felt stuck like skin against frozen metal. Seconds passed like minutes. His eyes searched for distractions, counted stations, patterns in trees and leaves, rooftop tiles and empty backyards. He imagined the fullness of life in those backyards with cricket games, barbecues, trampolines and swimming pools, laughing faces. He smiled for a second. Then sighed. It was his station.

He stepped from the train. A deep breath. Freedom and open sky.

A woman sat on a bench holding her hands to her head. She wore dark blue gloves with fingers cut off. The threads were loose. “The devil’s having a field day with me,” she said. He avoided further eye contact and walked away.

Along the sidewalk he saw an oncoming bus. He stopped. The bus pushed a gust of wind which swirled across his cheeks.

It was a cold morning. Robert hid his hands in pockets. He felt his phone, took it out and checked the time. He second guessed and checked again, a few minutes till work starts.

His phone buzzed and vibrated. It was his neighbor Hugh. He swiped and pressed the screen.

“Hey mate what’s up?” Said Robert.

“Uh…Just calling you back. How are you doing?”

“I’m fine. Just on my way to work. How are you going? What are you up to?”

“I just told you, I’m on my way to the doctor’s.” Said Hugh.

“What do you mean?”

“I just spoke to you like two seconds ago,” Hugh told him.

This confused Robert. He did not remember calling Hugh.

“Maybe it was a pocket call.” Said Robert.

“I don’t know. Anyway I’ve got to go.”

And that was how the conversation ended. Robert did not know what to make of it, though in any case, he had to get to work.

Robert worked at a call centre which dispatched emergency service workers. Police. Fire. Ambulance. It was his job to receive requests and connect them. The role was hectic, though over time, Robert had managed to detach himself and lessen the strain. It was enough for him to think of requests as voices without imagining them further.

He walked toward the closed glass doors. They recognised where he was moving and slid open. He walked the same steps many times, and through habit avoided walking them differently.

Upon pressing an upward arrow the elevator doors opened. He stood to the side expecting people to walk out. The elevator was empty. He took a breath, stepped in, and pressed the 4th floor button. Keeping with elevator etiquette he stepped to the corner. The indicator showed he was moving to basement level. He pressed the button again. The doors opened and Robert shuffled a half step. He bit his lip. It was dry. He felt a loose segment and nibbled. He moved his lips over and under themselves. He felt another loose skin line and bit again. Dry skin made moist and alive. Involuntary. The movement of lips and teeth. Nobody entered. He pressed the 4th floor button again and continued upward.

Ding!

The doors opened. Robert walked through reception and past an aisle of cubicles. Greg was at his desk drinking a coffee. The mug wobbled in his hand. Greg had Parkinsons disease. He didn’t tell anyone at work.

“How was your weekend?” Asked Greg. Greg smiled wide. His eyes were concentrated, as though he were reading his own mind while instructing it. He was determined not to concede. Greg was conscious. Awake.

Greg had built an impression of Robert. That Robert didn’t talk much, didn’t ask questions. That he kept his desk clear of sentiment. Ate lunch at his desk. To Greg, Robert seemed empty. Sometimes he wondered if Robert was even human, alive. Even so, Greg was curious and friendly.

“Fine Greg. Didn’t do much. What about yourself?”

“Well…, Greg went on and spoke about taking his dog to the beach, enjoying a rare sunny afternoon, church on Sunday, then watching a doco about some guy who took photos of action figures. Robert was buoyed by none of it, and held eye contact, nodding while his mind drifted.

And so the everydayness continued till the afternoon and time to go home. Robert decided to catch the tram.

Sitting on the tram Robert felt nervous without knowing where the feeling came from. He scratched and tugged a flake of skin between his thumb and nail. The flake lifted to a thread. He felt a pinch and stopped himself. What did it matter if there was loose skin along his nail. He stared into space trying to resolve his mind. Looking through the window he saw bridal stores along Sydney Road. The perfect dresses arranged on mannequins flanked by gilt ornaments and empty furnishings. It was his stop. Finally. He stood and pressed the button.

Robert jumped from the tram as the doors opened. A motorbike swerved and almost clipped him. The bike hit the curb and dropped.

The rider got up and started toward Robert. Furious.

“Oi!” He said. “Fuck you!” He held clenched fists inside black leather gloves.

“What the fuck are you doing jumping in front of me like that. You want to get killed!?”

Robert froze, stood silent and thought about the question, then apologised and walked home.

Stopping at the apartment security entrance he took a breath and gently opened the gate. Robert unlocked his door and was relieved in shutting it. He took a conscious breath. The air felt safer inside. Another day was complete. He looked at the vacuum cleaner, stepped past and into the kitchen.

Robert switched the radio on. It played a bouzouki song. After washing the dishes he fiddled with the dial and located his preferred station. Somehow it had been switched to FM. In any case, he found himself listening to Partrica Karvelis interviewing an author for the Melbourne Writers Festival. Something about a book and technology and nineteen eighty-four. He didn’t take much notice.

Lamb chops for dinner. Robert ground peppercorns and shook salt over the raw cut. He noticed red flesh streaked in white and sinew. Robert did not think of meat as a conscious animal, though he understood it had been part of one. And even so, he regarded sheep as inferior and maintained his right to eat them.

Robert waited till the fry-pan smoked before pouring oil and dropping lamp chops in it. They sizzled and cooked all crispy brown and crusty.

After resting a couple of minutes he sliced the lamb and lifted it toward his mouth. His lips were dry and split. He tasted a bitter streak. The food was in his mouth but he didn’t want to eat it. He chewed until the flavour drained and tasted like wet paper. He spat it out wondering what was wrong with him. Not hungry he supposed.

Robert switched the TV on. He searched across the channels and found the remake of The Ring. It was the end scene so he switched it off. The original was better.

He decided it was time for bed. But bathroom first.

Walking into the bathroom Robert realised he needed to piss. He lowered his pants and pointed his dick toward the bowl. It is always best to hit water with the first stream. And so he did and felt good about it.

He needed to brush his teeth. He pursed his teeth against the mirrored reflection. Occasional sparks of pain told him brushing was necessary. Dental work was necessary. But for now it was enough to brush. He took the electric toothbrush from the charger. A green light told him it was ready. The brush spun against teeth and he took pains to avoid gums.

And now bedtime. Robert unfurled his blanket and lay in bed. It was cold and he felt his toes against the outer edges. He looked at his phone. The alarm was set. He closed his eyes, placed his head against the pillow and cuddled another pillow like a teddy bear. His mind was ready for rest.

Robert felt a fire in his chest, he saw himself lying in bed. Gazing at his sleeping self. Conscious of being outside of himself. Grimacing. A dream. But no. His chest was throbbing. His back hot and wet. A shadow twisted above him. He saw it hovering. It was there. It was real. It was as though he’d been staring at the shadow the entire time. Then waking, his eyes saw the shadow was just the open closet door. He reached for his phone. It was 10:47pm. Robert lay still for a moment and tried to make sense of it. He checked his phone again. He’d been asleep for 10 minutes and was soaked in sweat. He moved his hands across his chest and decided to take a shower.

Robert turned the water to hot and enjoyed the warm feeling. He felt whole.

Robert ran his palm across his face and felt pointy hairs. He decided to shave. He took a dollop of shaving cream and doused his chin, his cheeks, above his upper lip, and the arches around his adams apple.

He rinsed the cream from his hand then took a disposable razor and lifted it.

The razor moved against his chin then drifted above his cheek. He saw tiny hairs stuck to the blades. The blades moved closer. His hands froze. He felt outside of himself. His hands kept moving. Eyelids open wide. He willed them to shut. He tried to stop his fingers from gripping the razor. There was no stopping. The blades stroked slices from his eyeball. There were segments of eye cartilage behind the blades.

Robert had shaved his eyes. He stumbled from the bathroom. He felt like screaming but his voice made no sound.

Walking blind with eyes bleeding Robert tripped over the vacuum cleaner. It switched on. The sound blared. He felt the suction against his toes. Pulling skin and squeezing his ankles until all he could hear was the sound of the vacuum cleaner. Then suddenly nothing. He had become a vacuum cleaner. Collecting dirt and dust. A handle and an end. A cord and electricity through him. A common household appliance.

Some days passed and Robert had not showed at work. The manager called but got no answer. After a week his neighbor Hugh knocked at the door. He could hear the vacuum cleaner. But no answer. Hugh had a spare key and used it to enter an empty apartment. Hugh switched off the vacuum cleaner and wondered why Robert had left it on if he wasn’t home.

After two more weeks Hugh became worried and called the police. A missing person case was lodged. The police investigated why Robert went missing and considered travel, identity theft, murder and suicide. No conclusion and the case remained open. In spite of the ongoing investigation, the rent needed to be paid and Robert’s belongings were seized then sent to auction.

Over time the vacuum cleaner changed hands. A cleaning company to single mum, to a bachelor who rarely used it.

As a vacuum cleaner Robert could no longer control what he would take in. He was detatched from reality and existed between it’s layers. It was mostly mechanical, but he did manage to maintain a subtle awareness of surroundings. Robert found himself surveying the stitching and fineness of carpets. His estimations of thread count were remarkable.

And he told himself daily, I’m a vaccum cleaner, I’m a black hole, I’m a vortex, an empty page, a flashing cursor.

Im a vacuum cleaner, I’m a black hole, I’m a vortex, I’m an empty page, a flashing cursor

One morning beside the brownish Yarra

A bloke unzipped and pissed behind a palm

Two women walked and looked away

The sky looked down and spat clingy droplets

Oi love, how about a smile?

How about you fuck off, she thought

Walking quicker, they turned to Princes Bridge

The old bloke sat down and fell asleep

The sun came up, a dog barked the man awake

Sorry, she said, should’ve kept him on a leash

He walked along the river

Filth floated downstream, some of it caught in metal cages

A long time ago before time was counted there was the Sea.

The Sea was deep and blue and full of waves.

The were no coral or fish living in the Sea.

The Sea was full of water and empty of life and lonely.

 

And there was the Sky.

The Sky was blue and alone.

Covering earth without touching.

The Sky could not move and only felt distance.

 

Something happened.

The Sea and Sky became awake.

They felt themselves and stillness.

The earth moved around them.

 

And the Sea lifted water with the wind, waiting for the Sky to answer.

The Sky opened and formed clouds.

The Sky touched the Sea with rain.

Drops of water fell and they made love.

 

The Sky saw in the Sea a reflection.

The Sea changed, and with it the Sky.

Looking at each other for all time.

The Sea and Sky became one.

The curtains were blue and speckled with oily dust. He chose not to clean them. Instead they hung neglected and lifeless as sterile examples of the things in life which do not go as planned. He did not choose for days spent with curtains drawn in shade and darkness. But that was the way things were. No slivers of light. Only him, alone in his room listening to talk back radio. The reassuring Philip Adams drowning the sound of cars and birds and wind through trees. A song lyric found his mind telling him “we’re all stranded here doing our best to deny it.” Momentarily he agreed with Dylan, then thought of something else, football, pretending that everything meant more than it does.

He never thought to clean his curtains. Take them down and pay the dry cleaner. Sure, they had become discoloured, sticky, and stained in smoke. Maybe it was too late. Maybe the stains had become embedded within the fabric. Who knows. Perhaps there was still time to reveal a different shade of blue. To talk it out. There will be time he told himself. There will be time. As days rolled on and the sun kept rising behind his blue curtains.

It was getting late and everyone else had moved inside. Darkness was all around, and the sound of music curled into the backyard. He sat alone and opened his palms against a wàrming fire, rubbing fingers together and staring upward.

The stars raced against the night sky, fighting for darkness against a sleeping sun. Little spots of light grew from the horizon revealing a landscape drenched in shadows of sunlight and gold washed clouds. The day was near, and with it possibility.

What the morning would bring he did not know. His heart was shaking, and falling thoughts left no traces.

He stepped inside the sliding door and saw her sleeping on the couch. Her head lay curled against her frizzy hair and a paisley velvet cushion. The music kept playing as he approached. What of her dreams, he wondered, could he really know her.

Time suggested the truth was clear. It was early morning. Taking two steps, he leant over and kissed her softly on the forehead, before walking out her door. Footsteps lingered in his mind.

A year later she stopped at his door.

She wore a blue summer dress. The hem swayed in the draft as she fixed her hair. It required no repair. The frizzled curls made silky and natural and warm in afternoon sun. She drew a breath and with that time paused and feeling took over. It had been too long, and gravity required that she fall into thoughts of him and last December at St Kilda beach. The ocean, people and the esplanade made invisible by a feeling of being inside of life. A mere fucking memory of a feeling. What was she doing standing there, stepping back, turning around, thinking about walking through his door. She exhaled a lingering breath, enough oxygen to sway trees and put a sparkle in the sun.

She regained herself and knocked on his door. A panic darted from her knuckles into her forehead, her hand icy and her mind burning with possibly. The sun felt hot. The sound of nearing steps and a hand on the latch. Everything felt heavy with the weight of things.

He opened the door and saw her standing there. He had no time to think, to find the right sentence, or prepare a face to meet hers.

“Hi Richard,” she said, after watching and waiting for an expression.

“Hi Nicole,” he said, “well… ain’t this a surprise,” still taken aback.

“Um, well I’m back in Melbourne, so I thought I’d see how you were doing,” she was still jittery, “I hope it’s not a bad time.”

“No… Um I was just fixing some food. Do you want a coffee.” His composure returned.

“Sure ”

“Here,” he said gesturing inside. He placed his hand against her shoulder and felt a tingle.

They talked of things and love and life and how it was that time had moved.

And now again years had passed and he found himself staring at the sky. They’d driven down the coast, and were sitting at Mornington breakwater. The sky was cloudy over the peninsula hills, and light disapeared behind an overhead lamp. They had become unhappy.

“I’m going.”

She stood, then walked away. The swell was strong and splashes of salty water sprayed the air. Her friends were waiting. A fisherman inflated a balloon and cast his rig downwind, waiting for the current to pull it toward deeper water.

Walking away she thought, sometimes love is not enough.

The wind grew stronger and distant shots of lighting flashed overhead.

There’s no such thing as a happy ending he thought. Picking himself up, he walked toward the shore and prepared his face for the expressions he’d meet back in Mornington.

He glanced at the sky and saw no stars, just a cloudy fucking mess.

“What about Janet. She’s hot?”

“Janet. No. What would we talk about. You know, conversations are important. Sure, I find her attractive. She’s very attractive. But she’s so dull, and bossy. Maybe if she wasn’t so bossy.”

“Come on Kev, she’s nice.”

“Not my kind of nice. I was going to ask before, but what’s with the lemons?” There was a bag of lemons beside Virginia’s feet.

“Well uh, when I drop by Mum’s she always wants me to take a bag of lemons. She wants to feel like she’s doing her bit to help, you know, with lemons.”

“That’s pretty funny,” said Kevin.

“I guess so,” diverting the subject she went on, “you need to stop looking for the perfect girl all the time and just get laid. You could do with some lemons,” she giggled, “after that you’ll find it easier… I mean how long has it been?” She spoke with a smirk concealing concern.

He didn’t answer the question. Kevin was one of those pathetic neurotic romantic types who gawk at the sun, struggle for the right sentence and can’t speak plainly. It was hard for him to build first impressions, draw compliments, or even stroll across pavement without projecting some level of insecurity. And Virginia. For her it was different. Love was self delusion. Maybe she was right, he thought.

He looked into his glass. “You know nowadays I get my adventures from the bottom of an empty glass,” he sighed, “you want another drink?”

“I’ll get this one,” she said, “another gin & tonic?”

She stood up, but he went on, “Yeah thanks, and besides. I find it hard to get laid when I’m always feeling sorry for myself. A lot of the time, especially after the breakup, I just feel shit all the time. It’s like a vicious cycle I get caught in, you know I have this urge to throw on my sneakers and go running, or do sit-ups, eat better, drink less.” He paused. “Well, that’s a lie – I actually drink more. All of it is really very unhealthy,” he laughed.

“That’s a real shame,” said Virginia turning toward the bar.

She came back to the booth and placed the drinks down.

“We can’t all be sex magnet good looking like you Ginnie,” he said.

“Oh come on, you could have sex with any of the women in here.” Kevin followed her comment with a feeling of unease as he scanned the room.

“Come on – choose one. If you go up and talk to anybody for five minutes, I’ll give you $100.”

“What have you won the lottery or something?”

“I’m serious Kev. $100.”

He looked across the room again and saw a couple of girls at a table. One of them got up and walked towards the toilet. A hundred dollars, he thought.

“Alright. You’re on,” said Kevin, finishing his drink in one gulp. Standing he felt booze rise from his gut and distil lightness in his mind. There was slight panic. Was he too drunk for conversation? No, he was fine he reasoned. Talking is easy, he thought, and prepared his face walking towards the other table.

“Hi there. Do you mind if I join you?”

“That’s okay.” She said.

Kevin sat down and began formulating the next question when he noticed Virginia approaching.

“This is your friend?” asked the girl.

“Yes. I was just leaving,” said Virginia, “you left your bag of lemons.” She handed him the bag and walked away.

“So where are you from?” Asked Kevin.

“I’m from Bali. My name is Rosa. What is your name?”

“I’m Kevin. Pleased to meet you Rosa.” She smiled. Thinking about what to say next he glanced at the lemons and noticed the $100 bill. Instant gratification.

He picked up a lemon and tore the rind to reveal the pith, “you need a thick skin when you’re a lemon, you know, you’re sour all the time, and you’re a lemon so nobody wants to buy you.” She didn’t understand the joke so he explained, “when you buy something that’s bad we call it a lemon.”

“In my country when somebody is like white person on inside, but look Asian, we call them lemon,” she laughed “maybe I’m lemon.”

“Ha! that’s funny. Let me buy you a drink. Is your friend drinking?”

“She go to meet her boyfriend. Maybe I have vodka lemonade.”

Three rounds later Kevin had developed a picture of Rosa in his mind. He liked her dark skin and the thickness of her lips. She had a gap between her front teeth that drew a shyness and cuteness from her smile. He wanted to kiss her. They moved from the table to a booth. He sat beside her. He was drunk and ordered a bowl of chips. The thought of having sex with Rosa made him jittery. He bit his tongue eating a chip.

She looked at him curiously, trying to figure out what broke his attention. He ran his tongue across his teeth. Tried to gain composure.

“You are very fetching. You sure caught me. I mean. I’m struggling to speak coherent sentences.” He leant toward her, “maybe we should just kiss.” She threw her face against his in a violent swap of tongue and saliva. She had a tongue ring and tasted like clove cigarettes.

He felt a gulp in his throat.

“Aheeeexcuse me,” he blurted out. In a frenzy he turned to his left, jumped out of the booth and vomited at a pot plant. The fern was covered in ground potato and red sauce.

A security guard walked over. “Oi you!” he pointed, “out!.”

He was escorted onto Bourke Street and looked to hail a taxi when Rosa walked out.

His skin tingled, his head was spinning, it didn’t matter. “Will you come home with me Rosa?”

She laughed, “I have to meet my friend. I stay with my friend. Sorry.”

Rosa called her friend and got no answer. They stood for a bit until a taxi pulled up. “Where are you heading?” asked the driver.

“Collingwood.” Closing the window, the driver shook his head and turned from the curb.

Kevin darted across the curb. “Fuck you, fucken cabbie.” Rosa jumped ahead of him, took a lemon from his bag and threw it. The lemon thumped against the taxi’s rear windscreen, he drove a few meters then stopped beside another cab. Both drivers stepped out and walked towards Kevin and Rosa looking pissed off.

Kevin took her hand. Swiftly and casually they walked further up Bourke street. A couple of doors away was Carlton Club. Why not have another drink? he thought, can’t hurt. A big Samoan bouncer asked him, “how much have you had to drink?’

“Just a couple of beers mate. I’ve been out to dinner with some old friends,” he lied. Kevin had the uncanny ability of focusing his drunken mind into momentary sobriety.

The bloke looked Kevin up and down, looked at Rosa, smiled and said, “have a good night guys, just be good.”

They had a drink on the balcony. A lanky dude asked Kevin for a lighter, he was holding a champagne glass and looked trashed. Eyes all wobbly. After sculling the drink he cackled and tossed the glass behind his shoulder, into the air and onto the street. The Samoan bouncer rushed over, grabbed him by the neck and shouted, “out!” And you too, pointing to Kevin and Rosa.

Jostling through the crowd, Kevin noticed the fire escape, a rear exit, they dashed for it. Expecting an alarm he opened the door. No alarm. They ran down the stairs and into the alley.

It was dark and full of smelly garbage bins. They walked a couple of meters until Rosa grabbed his arm and pulled them towards a doorway, she swung her hand over his neck and flung his mouth into a wild kiss. She slipped her top down. He kissed her breast, his lips and teeth caging her nipple. He bit her nipple. She had large brown nipples. They were hard and plump. She told him to bite harder. He bit down.

“Bite it harder” she ordered. I don’t want to hurt the girl, he thought. He bit sharply. She smiled and moaned loudly.

He kissed her again and pleaded, “come home with me.”

“I can’t because of my friend,” she told him.

He felt her ass. A nice ass with firm wholesome cheeks. Her hand guided his down her skirt, inviting him. He felt her drenched.

“You’re so warm and wet down there,” he rubbed his forefingers along her pussy then drew back, brought them to his lips, his tongue. He enjoyed her taste, her smell.

“It’s because I’m horny.”

He clutched her lips and wrestled with her tongue ring, all the while bringing his fingers back down along her ass crack and across her warm clit.

“Do you want to?” She asked.

Shit! he thought, this woman is crazy. She wants to fuck right here in this dirty alley. They’d just met a couple of hours ago.

“I want to fuck you so bad.”

“Let’s,” she said smiling and rubbing her thighs against his crotch. She moved her hand inside his belt and felt the top of his dick. He was hard. She squeezed gently at first, then gripped him tightly.

He pulled her leggings down, grabbed her thighs, lifted her up against the doorway while her toes danced along the pavement. The door felt cold against his sweaty palm.

“Don’t go in me.”

“Don’t worry I won’t.” There was no way he would cum after how much gin he’d drunk.

She pushed down on his hands, her feet reached towards the concrete step. It was awkward. They stopped for a moment and kissed. She turned around and bent towards the doorway. He clutched her lower back, and gently kissed the top of his cock against her pussy. Moving inside her, his thumbs stroked her shoulders and spine. She turned her head and whispered into his ear.

Suddenly they heard a noise, “clang, crash, clang.” A cleaner stepped into the alleyway, dropping garbage into bins. Rosa panicked and drew away. Embarrassed. She pulled her leggings up and fixed her top.

Kevin started laughing and clumsily pulled his jeans up. Pretending not to notice them the cleaner stepped back inside. Both of them were fully clothed and smiled at each other.

They walked towards Russell Street and turned left. “You should come back to mine. We can have a freaky good time.”

“I want to but I can’t. I have to stay with my friend.” She checked her phone. “My friend wait for me in Hungry Jacks… Please don’t say anything.” That seemed obvious to Kevin. Walking under those fluorescent lights, trying to wipe the grin off took some proper acting, real George Clooney stuff.

It was Thursday morning lunchtime and Victor had been playing in the tanbark when he noticed the new girl, Rose, flapping her arms and jumping up and down.

“What are you doing?” He asked.

“I’m a dragonfly.” She said.

“You’re not a dragonfly. I hate dragonflies. If you were a dragonfly, I’d catch you and pull your wings off.”

“No!” she shouted, “You can’t do that.” Victor smirked, and laughed. At summer camp Victor and a friend had pulled the wings from two dragonflies, placed them on a leaf and watched them fight. Boys can be cruel like that.

Rose stared him down for a second, felt her jaw quibble and tears build across her eyelids.

“You’re an ugly moth!” she cried, turning and running towards the shelter shed.

A fly buzzed past and landed on Victor’s forearm. He waited a second, then swatted it, leaving a trail of yellow muck.

Walking home from school along the riverbank, Victor saw Rose watching sunburned leaves float down river. He stopped by a gumtree to have a look. The trunk was shedding and bark lay curled in branches, streaming and crackling in the wind. Rose looked back at him then turned away. The strangest thing happened. Her legs stretched out under her body, transforming into what looked like a pointy tail, a set of wings folded from under her jacket, her wings fluttered across her back and raised her from the promenade. She flew free between water and the setting sky. Rose had turned into a dragonfly.

Victor stopped by the riverside and waited for his mind to catch what had happened. Stunned, he didn’t know what to think and sat upon a grassy knoll. The sun was falling behind trees, it was getting dark. His Mother would be worried. He needed to get home, and walking along familiar sidewalks he wondered if what he’d seen was real or just some strange fantastic dream. It was really the strangest thing.

Victor woke up to his alarm blaring. Time to get up for school. He felt itchy. Rolling out of bed he glanced at the mirror. Wait, what! He swung his head back towards his reflection. His eyes froze like ice cubes and he screamed, “Ahhhrrrrrrpphhhhhllllllll! The shock. The horror. He heard his voice soften into a whimper. Trying to scream, and shout, all he heard was a breathe of warm air and spit scuttle from his throat.
“This can’t be right,” he thought “I must still be dreaming.”
Victor wasn’t dreaming. He had prickly brown hairs erupting all over his cheeks, and standing tall from the centre of his back a pair of flapping wings had torn through his shirt.

He’d become a moth

What? How had he become a moth?

What was he going to do?!

There was no way he could go to school shaped like this. A moth can’t sit in class. A moth can’t play football at lunchtime. School is no place for a moth! What would Mum think? After checking to see his Mum had left for work, Victor tried to make breakfast. He flapped and hobbled his way to the kitchen table where a corn flakes box stood beside a bowl. This proved difficult. He couldn’t open the fridge, so ended up eating dry cereal off the floor. Only two flakes made it to the bowl. What a mess.

Victor thought of Rose and the previous afternoon. He had so many questions. Why was he a moth? He thought of what he knew about moths from the nature documentaries he’d watched. He knew it was natural for a caterpillar to turn into a butterfly, he knew it was normal for a seed to sprout a flower. But he had never seen a documentary where a human being suddenly turned into a moth.

I may as well see if I can fly, he thought. And went outside to test his wings. Flapping and slapping at the air; his body bounced along the grass, and up and then down, and then up, and then up. It was easy, flying was easy for a moth.

He flew up above his house, past giant city skyscrapers, and through pillows of clouds. The air thinned and land curved downward. Victor soared through the suburbs for hours, until the sun was high and his wings felt hot and tired. The sunlit sky is no place for a moth to fly. He floated to a riverbed, and landed gently beside a cave where a cool breeze told him to rest.

The cave opening was wide, shrinking into a narrow passageway. Victor had to squeeze through, leaving dust along the crumbling cold stones. The passageway stretched into a deep tunnel filled with oddly shaped rocks, set alight by beams of sunlight folding through cracks in the ceiling. From a distance he spotted what looked like a strange and colorful insect.

A stick insect! It stood perfectly still and was unlike any other insect he had ever seen. This creature was colored green, purple, pink and blue, and was shaped like a bird of paradise flower. Victor landed beside the creature, and curiously inspected the nape of its neck.

The stick insect jumped back in a sudden motion, “what do you think you’re doing?”

“Oh sorry. I didn’t know you could speak. You look like a flower, and you sure smell nice. Do you have a name?”

“Why do you want to know?” Stick insects are suspicious and elusive creatures.

“I’m just trying to be friendly. I’m Victor.”

“Move over that way will you Victor dear, you’re in my sunshine.” Victor shuffled across as best a moth can.

“That’s better. My name is Edwina Pinkerton.”

“You sure smell nice Edwina, and you’re very pretty too,” said Victor.

“Of course I do dear, I’m wearing Eau de Grasse. It’s an expensive French perfume. A pity I can’t say the same about you.” Edwina raised her chin and sprayed perfume in Victor’s direction. It stung a little. She then turned her nose away pretending as though he was no longer there. Victor felt invisible for a moment until realising he was being ignored.

He flew further into the cave and thought of Rose the dragonfly. Maybe she could help him. He wondered where she might be.

Victor hadn’t flown far into the cave, when he noticed an old blue turtle playing harmonica in a dark corner.

“Have you seen my shell?” said the turtle.

Victor was confused by the question.

“I’ve lost my shell young man. I can’t go outside without my shell.”

“I’ve never seen a blue turtle before.”

“I’ve been blue, ever since my babies left me,” said the turtle. “I’ve had so many babies, and I’ve loved them all, but those damn birds keep flying through, there’s no way to stop it! Those damn birds keep taking my babies away.”

“What’s your name Mr. Turtle?”

“I’m Rudy.”

Victor introduced himself.

“I’m looking for a dragonfly named Rose. Have you seen her Mr. Rudy?”

“I ain’t seen her around, it pains too much to look into the sky, with all them birds flying by. You know them birds will chew you half to death, then take you to their nests where they torture you and make you bird-feed. Vicious creatures them birds.”

“That’s horrible,” said Victor.

“Yes it is my young friend. I hope you find Rose, and I hope them birds don’t take her. That’s the best we can do is hope,” grumbled Rudy. Birds are scary, thought Victor. He was worried by the thought of Rose being taken by a bird, but he flew on, even if it meant meeting a bird.

A fly buzzed toward Victor and he flew to the next leaf. How annoying. He thought of all the times he’d swatted them away.

“Buzz off you dirty fly!”

“You’re mean.” Said the fly obviously hurt. “You don’t know what it’s like being dirty. I wash three times a day, but everybody shoos me away. Nobody wants to be your friend when you’re a fly. You’re just like the rest of them Mr. Moth, you just don’t care.”

“I’m sorry Mr. Fly. I didn’t know you had feelings.”

“I do have feelings,” said the fly, “I know I have them because you just hurt them. And it’s Miss Fly. I’m a girl!” Cried the fly with tears streaming down her eyes.

“Don’t cry Miss Fly. I can be your friend.” Victor soaked up the tears from the fly with the tip of his wing and said, “there, there Miss Fly, I was wrong. You aren’t dirty like I said, I was just being a stupid human.”

“But you’re a moth. You’re not human! All humans hate flies, humans are evil?”

“Not all of us are evil. Some of us are good.”

The moth started to laugh so hard, that she stopped crying. She didn’t believe that Victor could have been human. But that’s how flies are, they’re sensitive and have a sense of humor.

The fly changed her tune. “You’re a funny moth. I can be your friend,” she said.

“Good I’m glad,” said Victor.

He looked closer at the fly and saw the feeling in her eyes. And there was so much feeling in her eyes that it made him feel too.

“If I ever become human again, I promise I will never hurt a fly.” And with that promise, Victor felt better. He flew deeper into the cave.

After flying for a short time, Victor’s attention was caught by a beam of light revealing a small pond and in it a purple swan was floating with a neck as long as a giraffe. The swan waded through water, it’s neck curled up with feathers glistening.

“What are you?”

“Excuse me? I’m not a what. A tree knows it has leaves, a stone knows it’s not a what. You’re very rude for an insect.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I know a swallow named Penelope and a pelican named Jane, but what’s a sorry? You look more like a moth. I’ve met moths before.” Said the swan.

“I’m not really an insect – I was human only yesterday.”

The swan turned it’s neck in Victor’s direction. “You smell like an insect, and you’re probably stupid like an insect. Everybody knows insects are ignorant little creatures with tiny brains.”

Victor was upset by this but understood he’d offended the swan.

“Tiny brains, yes, tiny brains” declared the swan, “I wasn’t always a swan – A long time ago I was a human girl, so long ago I can hardly remember.”

“Then you believe me? That I’m telling the truth!” Said Victor enthusiastically.

“No you’re nothing but a rude moth,” replied the swan.

Victor paused for a moment. The swan was so exhausting.

“Why did you stay here if you were a human girl.”

“I told you I can’t remember – so please stop asking about it. This is my home now. And besides, Mother Nature lives here, and I can’t leave my mother.”

Victor thought of his mother because he loved her, and now that he was a moth he wished he could see her again. “You must love your mother a lot.”

“Of course I do. Not that you’d know anything about that.”

Victor sensed the swan didn’t like him, so he left her alone and flew away.

While he was flying a mosquito buzzed past Victor’s ear looking vicious. It’s sharp beak stained the color of dry blood.

“Hh…hello Mosquito. Please don’t bite me”

The mosquito hovered closer. The screeching got louder. Victor drew his wings toward his chest.

“I’m Vernon,” said the mosquito, landing at a safe distance.

“Ahh are you going to drink my blood?”

“Not today. I’ve had plenty to drink, and besides, moth blood tastes foul!” Not all mosquitoes are hungry.

Victor caught his breath and felt fortunate to be a moth.

Changing the subject, he asked, “have you seen any dragonflies?”

“Dragonflies! Did you say dragonflies. Horrible, terrible, disgusting creatures, those dragonflies. What would you want with a dragonfly?”

“I’m looking for a dragonfly named Rose.”

“Dragonflies don’t have names like you and me. A friend of a dragonfly is no friend of mine.” Shouted Vern the mosquito, buzzing about to leave.

“Wait!” Shouted Victor. “What’s wrong with dragonflies?”

“What’s wrong! He wants to know what’s wrong with them. They eat mosquitos! No friend of mine,” grumbled Vern, buzzing away.

That’s strange thought Victor, he didn’t know that about dragonflies. I suppose everybody needs to eat something.

Resting on a rock, Victor’s eyes darted when he saw something move in the corner. Looking for a clue he stared into darkness for what seemed like eternity, squinting to make out what it was. A dry branch rustled and he saw a small dark creature scurry behind a rock. After building up courage for a while, he fluttered over to the rock and peered down to find a cowering rat.

“Are you a rat?” He asked. Upon asking he felt stupid because he’d seen rats, and knew what they looked like.

“No,” said the rat.

“You look like a rat, and rats carry disease.”

“I’m not a rat. I’m a….I’m a tarantula” Said the rat.

“You don’t look like a spider.”

“Well, then I’m a Tyrannosaurus Rex.”

“Haha” Victor laughed, “no you’re not.”

The rat didn’t like being a rat, and somewhere in the cave he’d decided to change his name and become someone else. The only problem was he could never quite be the thing he wanted, so he went along choosing other things to be.

“Dinosaurs are extinct. I think you’re a rat.” Said Victor.

“Maybe you think that because you’ve never seen a dinosaur.” Victor was quickly discovering that rats can talk their way out of any situation.

“I’ve seen pictures of them.”

“Pictures are fine. But I’m the real thing. A real-life dinosaur.”

Victor didn’t know what to make of this. After a moment of awkward silence he flew on further.

Flying along the cave wall Victor swerved as he saw a spider’s web swaying in the misty darkness. He panicked and tried to avoid it. With relief, he thought he had missed it. Only to realise his wing was caught flapping in the sticky mess.

From the corner of his eye he saw the sharp spiky legs of a spider stalking towards him in a deathly tap dance. Victor froze, his breath caught painfully in his chest.

Fighting the feeling he screamed “please don’t hurt me. I don’t want to die!”

“Hush…” Hissed the spider. “What are you doing flying through my web. You ruined all my hard work. Do you know how much work goes into spinning a web? No, you don’t because you’re a blind moth who knows nothing about engineering. Hssss.”

“But I do know about engineering.” Victor insisted.

“Other insects know nothing about patterns in webs. Webs are the language of nature. Everything can be understood through the patterns of nature. And magnetic fields that swirl in the Springtime. But that’s not anything you would know about.”

“My Dad is an engineer and he told me how you can build a bridge with maths. You can build your web up again.”

The spider thought for a moment.

“You are wise for a moth, I will let you to live because you try to understand nature.” The spider tore at it’s web, setting Victor free to fly away.

In the distance, Victor saw a butterfly spread it’s wings. A beautiful creature unlike his eyes had ever seen. Wings with patterns and colors like a speckled rainbow full of glitter.

“Do you remember being a caterpillar?” Asked the butterfly.

Victor remembered he’d been a human, but it felt so distant.

“No,” was all he said.

The butterfly swayed like an angel beaming starlight through misty clouds.

“Why would a butterfly as beautiful as you be hiding in this dark cave?”

“I’m looking for my lost love. He was a caterpillar. I last saw him crawling into this cave. You haven’t seen a caterpillar in this cave? His name is Thomas. Please tell me you’ve seen my Tommy,” the butterfly begged, heartbroken.

The butterfly had transformed and left her lover behind. Leaving love behind can change you like that, you need to keep looking for it.

Victor thought of his Mum, and felt empty.

“I’m sorry, I haven’t seen Thomas. I wish that I had. I’m looking for somebody too. I’ve lost her, she’s a dragonfly named Rose.”

The butterfly flew towards Victor and for a moment they held each other in their wings, then flew apart.

“I hope you find your Rose.” Said the butterfly before floating into darkness.

And that was that. Victor was alone. He didn’t feel like flying. His hope was gone. All that remained was the sound of tears splashing on cold stone in a dark cave. He felt lost.

“Don’t cry Victor.”

“Who’s there? And how do you know my name?”

“I know everybody’s name,” she said. “Who are you?”

“I’m Mother Nature, and this is my cave” said the voice.

“Please make yourself at home. Would you like a warm drink and some biscuits?” From the darkness emerged a figure. She looked like Victor’s grandmother, with wilted gray hair and warm wrinkles across her cheeks.

“No,” said Victor, sobbing, “I want to be human again.”

“Not before you try my gingerbread snaps.”

“Can you make me human again?” he repeated.

“I can’t change your nature Victor. Only you can do that. But don’t worry because everything will be as it should. So please have a seat, rest your wings and have a hot chocolate.”

Victor felt calm and accepted a warm mug of hot chocolate and a gingerbread biscuit made with cinnamon and almonds.

“This cave is special Victor. Everyone who lives here is a unique and rare individual. You are a moth with a human mind – there is no moth like you in the universe, and if you choose, you can make this cave your home.”

“But I don’t want to live here. I want to be human again. I’m lost, and I want to go home. I’ve been looking for a girl named Rose. She’s a human who turned into a dragonfly.”

“Rose? I’ve known her since she was a little girl. She lives up there past the fireflies,” she said, pointing towards flickering ceiling lights.
Victor finished his hot chocolate, thanked Mother Nature and flew up, and up. He saw a flock of fireflies but didn’t stop to chat. A trickle of light revealed a crevice, a passageway, and sunlight. The sun was setting and there was Rose, sitting atop a flower, wagging her tail and resting her little feet in speckles of sunshine.

“Hi Rose. It’s me Victor. I’ve been looking everywhere for you.”

“Why?” ‘

“You turned me into a moth, and now I need your help to turn me back.”

“I didn’t turn you into a moth,” said Rose.

“But yesterday in the playground, you told me I was a moth, then after school I saw you turn into a dragonfly, then I woke up like this today.” Thoughts streamed through everything. Yesterday seemed so far from the cave, and the sky and Mother Nature.

“That’s just something dragonflies say – we call each other names,” said Rose, “I didn’t turn you into a moth – I wouldn’t know how.”

“But why did you turn into a dragonfly?”

“I told you Victor, I’m a dragonfly. I’ve always been a dragonfly – I turned into a human and you saw me change back,” Victor was confused again, “you told me about pulling wings and it made me cry. I’ve never had my feelings hurt like that. I thought about it and realised I’d been cruel – I ate another dragonfly – that’s what turned me human. I won’t ever do it again.”

“But why did I turn into a moth then?”

“I don’t know Victor – but I’m sorry – I can’t help you.”

Rose flew from her flower, disappearing behind the gum trees.

Victor was even sadder than before – he was sorry for all the times he’d tortured insects with his magnifying glass, all the flies he’d swatted, spider’s he’d killed, and ants he’d squashed, he even felt sorry for the mosquitoes. He was tired. The sun went to sleep behind the horizon, and so did he.

Victor woke to his alarm blaring. Time to get up for school, was his first thought. Then it hit him. He was home, he was human. Jumping to his feet, he surveyed his hands, feet, chest. Victor was ecstatic. The room had never been so bright, the day had never felt so welcome. His lips gripped his face in the biggest smile any boy had smiled. The largest smile in the universe.
Rolling out of bed he passed the mirror and saw his reflection. He was completely human. He went into the kitchen for breakfast just like every other day. After fixing cereal he watched himself lift a spoon to his mouth. Fingers can be so useful, he thought. His mother walked into the kitchen.

“I’m very cross with you Victor – I know you didn’t go to school yesterday,” she scolded.

“What? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Don’t play dumb with me. I got a call from the principal – you’re just lucky not to be suspended.”

There was no use arguing. “I’m sorry Mum.”

“Well that’s not good enough – no video games for a month!” He thought for a second that she had said moth. It didn’t bother him if he played video games or not. He did not know why that was because he loved playing video games. Though Victor did not understand it, something had changed in him. He knew it instinctively. Some part of him had realised that time changes people, but even more powerfully than time, it is people who change people. And he had changed.

“Sure, okay okay. Calm down.”

“Don’t tell me to calm down – and why are you wearing school clothes on a Saturday? Did you sleep in your clothes.”

“But I thought it was Friday.” She looked at him curiously and told him, “sometimes I don’t know what to think.”

Wouldn’t it be strange if you were born an orange

Swaying from a branch on a breezy summer day

Tickle of a leaf, worry blown away

Life feels pretty strange inside an orange peel

No one else around, can you imagine it as real

Dreaming of the sky, drinking waves of sunshine

Hard and bitter skin, sweeter softness inside

Zest and misty time is endless, momentary sublime

Rainy days to bathe in earth, stretching praying climb

Above the birds and human hands, beauty you will find

Ripe and true, seeing all and satisfied in mind

The tallest trees brown fallen leaves taken by the wind

Falling to the earth from where it all begins

They were walking and she stopped beside some university students. It meant he also had to stop.

A woman handed him a leaflet.

“What are you here for?,” he asked.

“I’m not here for anything.” The leaflet was blank.

Kate signed the petition and was cross when he refused to sign. I don’t support the system, he thought, never will. He had another look at the leaflet and turned it over. It read, ‘Stop Illegal Government Activity.’ Now will you sign?

He didn’t sign. Nobody knows the meaning of things anymore. It’s so confusing.

They walked along the edge of the river, past the aquarium. A homeless bloke was sitting beside some ragged bed sheets and a blue Ikea bag, the yellow sash was torn from it’s end and floated in a dark puddle. Kate handed him a bottle of wine in a brown paper bag. His face rose and his eyes grew larger with delight. “Merry Christmas,” she said, and walked on by.

“We can get another bottle around the corner.”

They ate dinner and drove home. He bought another two bottles and opened the first at home. He had the next day off and felt making the most was how it was going to be.

Sitting on a lounge chair he rested his drink against the outside arm rest. His eyes flickered, from slowing blinks they closed above shallow bags and rosy cheeks. He dropped his glass. He was drunk. Her heart fell with the glass, shattered like fragments of an unfulfilled promise. A sparkly crimson puddle on the floorboards.

Surprise, shock, he woke, felt annoyed, swaying and bending to pick up the pieces.

“Stop,” she lifted his shoulder. Sobbing she dropped to her knees and picked up shards of wine soaked glass. Short of breath, tears rained down her snotty nose. A splinter of glass squeezed inside her fingernail.

“No, I’ll do it,” he said, bending and falling towards the floor.

The next morning he acted aloof. Pretended like things were okay.

“You don’t remember do you?”

“Of course I do. I know I probably had too many. I’m sorry.”

“Do you remember me calling your Dad?”

He didn’t remember but felt he’d done wrong. A timid drunk, lovable and loving. Emotions were easy and there weren’t nefarious ones in his heart. Smiling, laughing, drifting. He didn’t want to know her truth. Taking the edge off. He thought about asking what his Dad said, though he preferred not to know. He’d find out anyway.

“You called my Dad?, what did he say.”

“He said not to worry.” She was crying. He stepped closer and moved his arms towards her shoulders. She hesitated. Brushed away lightly, then sunk her head on his shoulder. His shirt felt wet. “He told me to take you outside for a walk, for fresh air.” He didn’t remember.

“You don’t remember do you?”

“No I don’t. I’m so sorry.”

“You were walking along fences and jumping around.”

“I’m sorry darling.” His eyes glazed with tears, he drew air through his nose and tightened his jaw.

“You’ll just do it again!”

“You have all these books but it means nothing. Just furniture. You sit on the couch wasting your time drinking.” He gave her a cold look. “I’m right fucking here!,” she cried.

He knew she was right but was too proud to admit it. Her words wouldn’t stop him from doing it again.

“You think you’re smart, but you’re a waste. You’re a tragedy.”