Instalment 9: pages 37-40 [Elliot spends the night at Danielle's coast house]
Once inside Danielle began fiddling with the pot-bellied stove, restarting the fire. The paper caught quickly, flame rustling through it.
“Bugger,” I said. “These are the only pants I’ve got.”
“Packed a little light for a weekend at the coast, didn’t you?”
“I travel light.”
“I have some old tracky dacks that might fit you.”
A moment later she flung the garment at me, leaving me to change while she went to the bathroom. The shapeless thing was old and green, and had stretched large enough to accommodate me in some kind of comfort, but not enough to reach my ankles. I retrieved my thick pair of spare socks and slumped in a chair by the fire. Danielle returned in loose pants and an untucked shirt, cradling the last of the beer.
We sat down to talk the cold away. I don’t recall when I fell asleep, or when Danielle set me up on one of the mattresses, but I do recall waking in the dark – Danielle’s soft arms about me.
There was a whimpering: mine.
“Hey,” she breathed, “hey, it’s alright.”
Embarrassment, fortunately, is never the first emotion to surface from sleep. First came the shock of aborted nightmare. “Do you remember it?” she asked.
“No, no. Sorry,” I said.
But I did, and it was waiting for me when I sunk down again to sleep.
Staring out over the dashboard’s electric twilight. A corridor of shadows, a whispering road. Then, movement. An interloper in the light, hands up and a nasty, feral smile. ‘Surprise’, the pose said, before collapsing like a stack of cardboard pieces. A drumming as it rolled up and over the corner of the bonnet. A fast swivelling in dark, light spraying across the leaves and branches; car sliding into the crunching bodies of wattle. More lights later, scattered in red and blue pieces through the glass on the road. Questions, accelerating questions punctuated by the long grey concrete spaces. Finally, a different room. One with pale blond wood on the walls, old fawn carpet and bad fluorescent lighting. Behind a high bench, under the coat of arms, was a man in red robes. Then, the man draped in black, rose. The man with the kindly droopy face and glasses and the soft, soft questions.
“Had you been drinking?”
“Yes, but not much.”
“Did you tell the officers you were speeding?”
“Yes, but not much.”
“I don’t think this man dived in front of your car. You had time to react didn’t you?”
“Yes, but not much.”
Trapped, trapped, trapped.
I awoke the next day fuzzy headed, blanket swaddled and with half of me hanging off the mattress. I moved through the morning in something of a blur: coffee, shower, toast, kissing Danielle goodbye on the cheek. She drew me down into a hug before I headed off in jeans that were still cuff-damp.
“It was good to see you Elliot,” she said. “Give me a call later in the week.”
“OK,” I said, moving off. “Thanks.”
OK, thanks, my thoughts mimicked. Well, that was impressive.
Winter sun flooded the car’s cabin through the windscreen, leaving me amiably warm. It still took me a while sitting behind the wheel to turn the key and start the engine. Mid phrase, Lester leapt in, right where he’d left off. Nat strode in behind, Buddy just brushing away in the background. The comfortable conversation between their sounds soothed me a little, enough to get going. I pulled over in Bateman’s Bay again, and dialled Eva’s mobile.
“Hello?” she asked sounding a little work-distracted.
“It’s Elliot, I’m on Carmichael’s phone,” I said.
“Didn’t think I recognised the number.”
“Yeah, look I think I have an idea about Marina, I’d like to bounce it off you.”
“She wasn’t there then?”
“No, but Danielle was in. She gave me some ideas.”
“I think Marina was close to a woman at her work. Jenny. Marina took her to meet the friends at TND and they got rather huggy in work photos. Jenny likes girls. Marina’s parents are pretty conservative old Canberra types. Red Hill and the neighbours.”
“You think your ex has switched teams?”
“And its either going terribly well, so she’s wondering how to tell the parents, or it’s gone terribly badly and she can’t face Jenny at work.”
“Don’t you think your ex might just have a mate who’s gay? Does this Jenny have to be her lover? I think you’re taking a slightly prudish interest.”
“I think you mean prurient,” I suggested.
“Great as a scrabble score; lousy distraction. Have a think about what you’re doing before you go off to confront this Jenny.”
“I am, I will. Anyway, I’m thinking I’ll drive on to Sydney.”
“To catch Stephen?”
“Yeah,” I replied, not exactly thrilled with the idea of speaking to Marina’s brother. “I’m not due back at work until tomorrow.”
“That’s a lot of driving over a couple of days.”
“I won’t head up if I can’t catch Stephen for lunch. I’d like to be back in the ‘Berra by dark.”
She exhaled in exasperation.
“Okay, well, drive carefully. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t.”
“That’s more license than I can handle.”
She chuckled and was about to ring off.
“Eva?” I asked. “Do you remember Danielle?”
“One of Marina’s friends, wasn’t she? Didn’t really meet her much.”
“Well, anyway – things got a little odd last night.”
“Odd unusual, or odd kinky?”
“Unusual. Unexpected. Nothing really happened, but …”
“She asked you to call.” It wasn’t a question.
“Elliot, you really are clueless, you know that don’t you?”
She hung up and I pulled back out onto the highway. After I had a few hours under my belt, I called Stephen and confirmed I could catch him for coffee in the early afternoon. I sang as I resumed the journey into Sydney, suddenly full of my two-fifty a day road trip and thoughts of Danielle’s hand straying over my face.