MinuteShe pushes the suds over the plate. She is looking at it. Soap runs down her arm, drips back on to her shirt. She uses a nail to scrape it, a little something the soap wouldn’t shift. She wipes her hands on a towel. Suds remain, just a few. She runs the cold tap to rinse them off. The dirt stays in the suds, she knows. She hangs her hands over the sink, dripping dry.
Don’t they just fly, the germs, she is wondering. Don’t they just land? She shakes her hands. It’s too humid, they wouldn’t dry if she stood here all night. She just wipes them down the front of her shirt.
Jake-o’s feet pound on the stairs. He is running down. She calls his name but he isn’t stopping. She can hear his voice, a pipe trilling in the still air, but it’s birdsong, sweet and undecipherable. A bass replies, and he is walking back. He passes the door, and she smiles. She has caught his eye. He smiles back, stopping to look at her for just a moment, then he’s back up the stairs.
What was that about, she calls through to the lounge.
Don’t worry. He just wants me to go read to him.
He stops by the doorway. She wonders whether he has ever thought about a second shave. Sometimes Jake-o tells her that the bedtime kisses scratch. Has he ever thought about shaving to save that soft skin from the rasp? She looks down at her hands, the wrinkled and loose skin at her fingertips.
I can do it, she says.
No, you’re okay. She is picturing his hand on the kid’s shoulder, his hard hand cradling the child’s face. She is hearing the murmur of his voice, the whisper of the sheets, the silence of a descended night.
The other day a woman was massaging her shoulders. She was almost asleep but she thought she heard the woman say, you don’t have too much tension.
Really, she said, and she was saying, I’ve given up on it, but only inside: she didn’t want to weird the therapist out. She was drifting, thinking of a beach, a long, hot afternoon and no sandflies. She is looking out at the people in the sea, jumping the waves and having fun. At least, they’re shouting and laughing as though it is fun.
She was thinking that the beach was only a few kilometres away, twenty minutes in the car, but somehow, whenever she did get there, the sun was just too hot for Jake-o, the flies ate her top to toe, and the stingers had drifted in and no one was swimming, jumping or finding the waves any fun at all.
She wakes up and it is as though she has been sleeping in the shade. Her head is a little heavy. The woman is packing up.
What you thinking, she asks him.
Nothing, he says.
You could make something up, she wants to tell him. Not thinking is forgivable but not talking is treason.
But she doesn’t say anything. She realises she is tired. She realises that the weariness that has come over her like a dream is not the heat but the stifling of feeling that comes each evening when she has tired out. It is like a whisky calm. She embraces it because it is chasing away any stress, making all pain unfeelable. She would never take to drink while she can just wear herself out in the day to day.
If she was not so tired she might reach over and touch him, but she couldn’t say why. Sometimes, she is thinking, that’s what holds you back, the having to know why and say it.
Flies smack into the screens. She can hear their patting against the wire behind her head. Sometimes there is a rhythm: thud, thud, thud-thud, thud, thud, thud-thud. But then there will be a break and she feels frustrated that it didn’t keep up.
They’re going to cut me, he says.
They’ve told you?
No, they won’t say anything. It’ll be a fucking email.
I’m sorry, he says. I’m sorry. I’ve told myself I won’t take it out on you. But it’s upsetting.
There’s other jobs.
It’s my job.
He doesn’t seem to have realised he has raised his voice. She strains to hear whether it’s woken Jake-o, but there’s nothing to hear but the buzz of whatever buzzes on these sweatsoaked nights.
She can hear him in the kitchen. She is trying to convince herself that he would be no less of a man without work. He will find it hard without a job, although she can’t think he’ll be without a job long. Maybe she’ll work. Maybe she’ll go out to an office and he can keep house. Men, she is thinking, they are no fucking use for loving, they’re so hard to love. Then she reminds herself that Jake-o will be a man down the track and it feels she is betraying him to think that a man cannot be worth her love. And maybe that just isn’t true, she is thinking, but none of their vagabond hearts, if they were good, led them to her door, and sooner or later, as her mother told her, you have to dip your scoop and drink whatever the well is filled with.
It has begun to rain. It has come on fast and heavy. She has to run, almost, to get the windows closed. The flies have stopped battering the screens, she notices. She’s thinking, do they have nests or something? Where do they go when it rains? Where do they go at all, when they’re not here, pushing headlong into the mesh of the screen, reaching for the light, a fake moon we put there because we stopped trusting the real one to show us where to walk?