Printed from WriteWords -

Come Fly With Me

by  writebyyrside

Posted: Thursday, June 21, 2012
Word Count: 8760
Summary: A short story commissioned last year, inspired in part by my experiences of Australia, which I visited in 2009.

Content Warning
This piece and/or subsequent comments may contain strong language.

Come Fly With Me

July 20, birthday of Carlos Santana

“I’m sorry Jack, I’m just not getting this. Who is Jimmy Olsen, and why should I be pissed off people dress like him?”

“He was Superman’s reporter pal on the Daily Planet. And I don’t want you to be pissed off, I just want you to think about that.”

“I will concede that there is a percentage of young men around who look like they’ve finished a shift on a 1950s newspaper. I don’t get that it’s a problem, let alone mine.”

“Don’t you see Josh? It’s like that thing of teenagers wearing t-shirts with Thai advertising slogans they can’t even read.”

“Some of those shirts are design classics. Loosen up. Moreover, they provide an ideal topic of conversation with any hotties you see wearing one. Where you see corporate appropriation, I see a means of getting that t-shirt on my floor.”

Josh looked around for the source of Jack’s malaise. Across the other side of the café, a woman with Japanese features was in animated conversation with a man who had more than a touch of small town cub reporter about him.

“Jack, you are such a rice-chaser.”

Before Jack could muster a defence, Josh got up from the table and made his way over to the couple. Jack winced as Josh got into his stride.

“Hi, my name’s Josh. But it’s not me you need to know about. My friend Jack is an up-and-coming photographer and he’d really love to take some photos of you two for his exhibition. I say you two, but mostly I mean you miss –“


“Aimi. Such a lovely name.”

“Let me stop you right there. For one thing, I’m not easily lured by the glamour of the camera. And the way you sidelined my friend just marked the pair of you out as big time sleazebags. On top of that, you pretty much gave the game away: your mate’s got a case of yellow fever, which really doesn’t do much to make this girl feel wanted. No thanks.”

Jack groaned, unsure how the situation could get any worse. He signalled to Josh to shut the hell up, and beat a retreat from the faded deco interior of the cinema café into the drizzle on Westgarth high street. “Jesus Josh.”

“Feisty eh?”

After the divorce, Sara stayed in St Kilda. Ian headed into the city. Separated, they could now reveal fine tastes that had been compromised in the family home. No clunky retro Danish furniture here. Fine fabrics in bold colours contoured contemporary chairs, against Sara’s textured plaster walls. Joke being, that Ian had come to a near-identical conclusion at his city centre apartment. Something else they agreed about bitterly.

She looked at the case notes on the table. Four lever-arch files and two folders full of emails. A clear plastic wallet laying out the way Immigration saw things. And on top of it all, like she always did, photos of the people she was defending. In this case, a Jamaican-born man who pressured his father into supporting him to get British citizenship, and somehow ended up in Melbourne using a lump sum back payment award from the UK welfare system. There was a history of crack use, and suggestions of a sexual assault that hadn’t made it as far as court. Not the kind of client that had inspired Sara to become a human rights lawyer.

She sipped at her Chardonnay, noticed that the music had stopped playing and looked for the remote. As she picked up the first lever arch file the room lifted with the sounds of Buena Vista Social Club. Seconds later, the click of the front door opening. Sara winced. Giving Jack a key was about letting him know he was welcome. She’d intended it to be more of a symbolic gesture than an invitation for her son to come over whenever the mood struck him.

“Sometimes, I wonder why I hang around Josh.”

Oh not this one again. And please, not now. “Darling, I’ve got a lot of work to do.”

“I can see,” he said, indicating her wine.


“OK, I get the message. You won’t know I’m here. I’ll fix something in the kitchen. You like the sound of pad thai?”

It was easier to go with it, accept the intrusion, than question why her mid-20s son found the need to prepare food at her place when he’d got a perfectly good kitchen at his own. Anyway, there were those files to get through.

“There are prawns that need eating. Use those. You know where everything is.”

Better, in fact, than he knew what was in his own apartment.

There she was, just a few seats ahead of him on the tram. Aimi. Poised - reading a magazine and not screaming at him - she looked even more attractive. Jack bit his lip. Was there a chance, without Josh here to add a chaotic element, that he could persuade her he was someone who could be considered worth (at the very least) talking to? Even if they never spoke again afterwards, Jack owed Aimi an apology.

Timing was the thing. He didn’t want this to be a fumbled conversation over the noise of the traffic and with the other passengers rubbernecking. Besides, he conceded, she might yell when on first seeing him. That kind of thing never looks good. He hated it when people got the wrong idea. So. Best wait for her to get off, and leave at the same stop.

Flamingoes soared past the tram, and Jack realised he wasn’t sure exactly where he was. But that was fine. Aimi would show him the way.

A minute or two later, she stood to disembark. Jack did his best to be nonchalant as he stood behind her, then stepped off together with Aimi. He couldn’t quite place himself, but was surely only a few stops away from the familiar. Traffic flowed past, and Jack took the opportunity to address her, coughing softly as an overture.

“I won’t ask you to shave your pubic hair. I think that’s weird. It infantilises women. I’d prefer it if you grew your hair naturally. Whatever size you’re comfortable with.”

“You’d rather I had a Wookie than a Brazilian.”

“If you will.”


“And why wear a bra, when that’s another male invention? No, swing easy. Perhaps on our first date, we could shop for t-shirts.”

Jack waited for a response. Aimi peered at him. “Those are your terms?”

Good point. Was there anything else they needed to discuss?

A flamingo neared him. He felt an urge to stroke its pink neck. Jack took the bird’s throat in hand. It was warm and comforting, surging with life. He stroked it again and it warbled with pleasure, just like the ringtone on -

His phone.

Too late to answer now anyway. Whoever it was, he’d get back to them.

Jack removed his hand from his trousers, momentarily dazed then realising he was on the couch at his mum’s place. Cuban music leaked through from the next room. She was still working. And what had he been dreaming? He had the makings of an erection, and the image lingering in his mind from sleep was of Chewbacca.

July 21, birthday of Marshall McLuhan

Somewhere, Jack had read that a white piece of paper was an invitation to begin something. It didn’t convince him in the slightest where writing was concerned. It helped even less now, when he was confronted by white walls that stretched in every direction.

“Miss Graham’s show went beautifully for her. There was press coverage on the first night, and she managed to get Christos Tsiolkas to do a speech - don’t ask me how she pulled that off - and with the attention that got as well, tout de Melbourne was here. It was quite something.”

The gallery owner’s voice echoed in the space. That is, the empty space. The void, which Jack was to illuminate with his glorious work. The photos he hadn’t taken for the show he was doing his damnedest not to think about. Only, with Yvonne Forrester, the crisp and expensively dressed custodian of the space showing him round - he couldn’t dodge her calls any longer - the vacuum was an all-too-palpable reality.

Never mind black holes, this was a white one. A gleaming singularity which dragged him in and subjected him to irresistible fundamental forces. Glimpse into it and be caught in the event horizon, more like the non-event horizon, as there was no prospect of him ever getting his act together to have a show shot and framed by next week.

Being trapped inside his head was bad enough. Having the (pitiful, self-absorbed, uncommitted) images he conjured up surrounding him in frames that emphasised their status as statements, and people circulating the gallery while they nibbled crackers and figured ways to dispose of olive stones…

No way. No fucking way.

“Mr Hamilton?”

Jack realised he wasn’t breathing. In that vacuum, there was some kind of safety, attention focused only on himself. It was something he lapsed into from time to time. But not usually when anyone else was around. He scooped air into his lungs as if he was taking in the magnificence of the space around him. Jollied the gesture up further by rubbing his hands together.

“Sure is something.”

“Yes, Mr Hamilton. Shall we discuss canapés, drinks, for the opening?”

Dad said that if he was puzzling over some architectural plans, he’d go for a swim and - somehow - know the way forward by the time he’d dried off. It was an article of faith for him. Jack had been in the Fitzroy pool for twenty minutes, and there was nothing in his head. Maybe that was the point.

But seriously, what was he going to do for the show? This was an opportunity to launch himself, get established as -
Well…what, exactly?

He’d done the photography course as a means of delaying the inevitable - entry into the job market. And he’d enjoyed the course well enough, producing work that was technically adept and showed signs of creativity. Whether he wanted to actually devote his life to photography was another matter.

Some of the students had a clear commitment to photo-journalism, wanting to document social issues. Others had a thing for portraiture, or art photography. Jack could do any of these genres with some competence, but was that enough? Judging by the way his peers talked about their work, he was surely lacking something. And whatever he felt wanting in would surely be magnified with a whole exhibition devoted to his work.

Or maybe it would guide him to what he needed to do. If he listened to what viewers said, and read what they wrote in the guestbook, would that guide him more surely in the future? But didn’t that reduce the show to market research? He was sure Diane Arbus, or any of the Magnum photographers, approached what they did with a touch of arrogance if anything, knowing inside that their work was worthwhile and exhibiting it to let people know just that, and give them the opportunity to buy some, screw them if they didn’t.

This was going over old ground, again. The thing with getting a job as a photographic assistant was to find out what really stuck. He’d stuck at the job, sure enough. But was that because he was good at it and enjoyed what he did, or merely found it preferable to what he might have been doing otherwise?

He’d learned a lot from Wendy Hayes, a reasonably well known art photographer, but she was making hints about Jack spreading his wings. And it was Wendy who arranged the show for him, giving him three months to pull together a collection that he was happy with to coincide with his 25th birthday. Over two months into that time, and he’d scarcely done a thing. Great.


Jack realised he’d set up a counter in his head to log the lengths he was swimming. It was at that moment he noticed the spatter of rain on his back, too. Only a handful of people were in the pool with him.

July 22, birthday of Sharni Vinson

“Jesus, what is this?”

“Dad’s new Audi,” said Jack, bringing the sage green vehicle to a halt outside the coffee shop Josh worked.

“No incentive to get your heap fixed, huh? He’s cool about you borrowing it to shift a PA?”

“What he doesn’t know can’t hurt him.”


They drove to the sound of Kanye West’s newest one, pulling up some ten minutes later outside a ramshackle house where the curtains were drawn despite it being mid-afternoon. Josh pounded on the front door, and a bleary stoner opened it and gave him a high-five.

“Come on in,” called Josh.

Jack followed him in. He half-recognised a couple of faces from parties he’d been to. Pretty soon a joint was going round, dub reverberating and light fracturing off the surface of a glittering polyhedral disco ball.

The conversation skitted around from this movie two of the guys had seen, to a one-eyed cat they’d kind of adopted, or which had adopted them, some kind of soul trip, and then Josh was off on his rap about customer service. Jack kept an eye on the response he was getting, sensing that his friend’s observations about the subject might not be best suited to their present environment. He decided to intervene.

“What would you do if you were in a totally white room?”

“Who’d paint a room all white?” One of the stoners, the one with the blonde afro, took the bait.

“Yeah, agreed. But all the same.”

“Is there a door?”

“It’s locked.”

“I’ll curl up, wait for someone to come along. I’m in no hurry.”

“I don’t get this.” The other stoner joined in now.

“What’s this about?”

“A psychology experiment.”

“You’re a psychologist? Cool.”

“No. It’s to find out how you respond to death. The white room is death.”

“Says who?”

“The psychologist.”

“I thought death was black.” Josh and the other stoner nodded. “What sort of Sabbath begat death metal?”

“Black Sabbath” intoned afro stoner, like a sacrament had been administered.

“What colour is vinyl, on which the devil’s tunes are etched?”


“What colour is Satan’s goatee?”


“Maybe the zeitgeist has changed. When I think of being in a blank white room, I think of all the things that could be there that aren’t. The things I’ve failed to create. The things I have created I’m not satisfied by. The things I haven’t even begun to think about. The things I could have made that will never flourish now. The things no-one will ever see. The things –“

“Shall we get this PA shifted?” boomed Josh. “Let’s get this party started!”

Josh’s enthusiasm was the bane of Jack’s life. But whenever he tried to explain the mechanics of how it worked, the words fell apart in his mouth and he was forced to admit that Josh was - to all intents and purposes - his best friend, Josh being the one who was best at stuff. Getting high without getting paranoid; getting people to give him things (clothes, holidays, gig tickets); getting the girl. Especially that. Cicely Tate, Helen Halbasch, Sandy Bruin, Naomi who played hockey in the park, and Ruth and Bonnie from the same team, Josh bewildered at Jack’s sniffiness about his good luck.

“You look miles away there,” said dad. “You OK?” He accepted Jack’s lack of response and returned to the steering wheel.

Dad was better than mum at picking up when something was up. Or at least, knew to leave Jack to whatever it was and not try to solve things, like he was a downtrodden client and she was the big star lawyer doing a hold-the-front-page intervention.

Jack and dad gave each other their space, even in the confines of the Audi. Seeing that Jack didn’t want to talk, Ian turned up the stereo, benevolently sharing Cuban rhythms with the neighbourhood they were passing through.

Ian and Sara were touchy about people commenting how they were more alike apart than they’d ever been together.

Jack remembered dad trying to explain it over a couple of beers one night. How they both loved Buena Vista Social Club, certainly. But loved them in different ways.

For Sara, the Cubans were a reminder of her own Latin roots – she liked to believe the rhythms ran in her as they did in the musicians. Ian though, had taken the music to heart, and understood that beneath its jaunty surface dark moods stirred, as expressed in the repeated lyrical theme of burning houses.

More, when they had seen the Buena Vista Social Club play, it was the contrast between the band’s twin trumpeters that led Ian to realise he and Sara had to divorce. The band’s lead trumpeter was a superlative player, who imbued every note with feeling. His main solo was a thing of yearning elegaic beauty. The secondary trumpeter, when it was his turn, came up to the front of the stage and turned his pockets out to display a yellow handkerchief that he shook about as he did a little dance. Sara was captivated, reminded of an uncle back in Argentina whose similar antics had entertained her as a child. Ian snorted with derision at a man who had clearly given up on being a musician a long time ago, still there in his memory as the Audi jumped a red light at a junction and slammed into the side of a little blue Honda coming from the left, sending it scudding across the road.

The sound of the car horns blaring in unison was timed pretty well with the Buena Vista music, muffled as it sounded to Jack right now through the airbag. He felt fine, not hurt and kind of exhilarated as he did a rapid inventory of his body, starting with his toes and heading up. Not for the first time, he found himself questioning the band’s need to shout ‘quando’ at regular intervals. What was that about? A cry of despair? A plea to God?

Ian was shaken but sound, and after checking on Jack cantilevered out of the car to look at the other driver. Please let the driver be alright. His heart quivered as he walked across, thankful there were no other vehicles involved. Then a thought.

“Jack? You’ve got your phone?”

Jack extracted himself from the Audi. His dad was peering inside the other car, the driver collapsed into the passenger chair, black hair spilled out. He held her wrist, satisfied himself there was a pulse.

“Get some photos, yeah? We’re going to need them for insurance.”

Having something to do helped Jack pull himself together. He got shots of both cars in relation to a telecoms box and road markings on one side, and as they related to a shopfront from another angle. Maybe the crash documentation could become the focus of his show after the disaster earlier with -


The other driver was Aimi.

His dad was talking to Aimi, passing his business card to her and doing that genial thing he did so well, reassuring her everything would turn out fine.

Fine for Aimi, fine for dad, but -

Jack felt her eyes on him at the same time she screamed. He didn’t know whether she was using Japanese or expressing something that no human tongue had words for. He kind of knew how she must be feeling, but recognised this was not the time for offering empathy.

Aimi was still screaming eleven seconds later, the intensity of her rage and attention to detail she was giving Jack making it clear this was a very personalised expression of laser intense fury, and coloured if Ian was correct in his reading of the situation with an intimation of simmering desire for lethal revenge.

“You got your photos of me now?” squalled Aimi, arms rigid with the sort of chemicals Jack’s mother did yoga to rid herself of.

With his dad now giving him a look questioning the nature of the relationship his son had with Aimi, as well as her general level of vehemence, Jack felt a curious mix of justified punishment and unwarranted malevolent supposition that was deeply uncomfortable. There must be a word for it.

From the Audi, the Cubans chanted in unison. “Quando.”

July 23, birthday of Terence Stamp

Quite how mentioning she always met Kim Chase for lunch and was subject to the latest updates on her husband’s shortcomings had turned into Sara agreeing to invite Jack along too, she couldn’t say. Probably something to do with feeling guilty for turfing Jack out of her place when he popped over to make pad thai the other night.

She wondered if he’d mention the photography show. Sara sensed anxiety about that. But Jack had anxiety about all kinds of things. Christ. That would be the full double bore: Kim deriding her husband, Jack prevaricating.
Sara was the last to arrive, Kim and Jack already at a table in the Chinese and supping green tea. Air was kissed, hugs were exchanged, and Sara was determined that the mood would continue in that bright and frothy fashion.

They chatted as the waiter took their order. A smattering of dim sum and a centrepiece dish to share, some kind of seafood special that a legendary emperor had apparently been partial to. They nibbled at char sui dumplings and lotus-wrapped glutinous rice, Jack mentioning some car incident with Ian the previous night that she bookmarked to ask about more when there were just the two of them. All this time ragging on her for drinking, and he was the one to crash.

Kim went relatively light on her husband, perhaps out of consideration for Jack being there. All the same, by the time the dim sum were finished Kim had revealed that her husband Kirk’s new hobby of microlighting might just be a cover for something more sordid, what with him having discovered an out-of-the-way place only accessible to flyers. Not content with defying the law of gravity, they openly mocked conventions about relationships: the place had become a haven for swingers. Sara suggested that Kirk blatantly stating the place was a swinging hangout made it less likely that adultery was afoot, but Kim stated gravely this was entirely in line with previous insults to their matrimony. Sara politely neglected to mention Kim’s conviction just the other week that the man in her life was gay. Now he was cruising the skies, pranging passing aviatrixes?

A gong sounded, brass and stately, and all at the table turned to see a trolley trundling toward them. Other eyes in the restaurant tracked its progress too. Seems this emperor’s seafood special was quite the big deal. An immense porcelain tureen neared the table, pushed by an aged waiter wearing some kind of ceremonial garb for the occasion, emerald gown with dragon motif, echoed in the brim of his crimson hat.

Pausing to bow, the waiter brought the tureen to the centre of the table, and with a showbiz flourish removed the lid. Steam billowed out, and with it the smell of the sea, plus a hint of spices. Star anise. Cinnamon. Ginger. Whatever, it smelled good. The waiter grinned, passing round new bowls for them to serve themselves from the tureen.

Conscious of the other diners looking at them, the three entered into the gravity of the situation and filled bowls for one another. Scallop, lobster, shrimp and more - there was a Mariana Trench of deep sea goodness here, along with pak choi, thread noodles, shredded leeks and three sorts of mushrooms.

Sara, Kim, and Jack looked at one another, not wanting to break the spell by laughing at the spectacle. Plus, credit where it’s due: the dish really was something special. An unspoken signal went round the table. Time to eat. Sara went straight in there with her chopsticks, plucked a numptious scallop. Jack’s first foray brought back a little tree of broccoli. Kim reached for a bottle of soy sauce, and dripped some onto the centrepiece of her own dish, a squid that was easily the size of her palm.

The soy hit the squid, and it reared up. There was no other way to describe what happened. Where it had been laid down, presumably dead and ready to be eaten, it was now up and very much active, cart-wheeling around the bowl to get the sting of the sauce out of its eye. Sara and Jack were as appalled as Kim by the galloping seafood, pulling noodles around the bowl like a fisherman dragging nets in as it sought to plunge back into the safety of the soup stock.

Kim just stared at her main course. Stared and -
She wasn’t breathing. Jack recognised what was happening for her. He snapped fingers in front of her, hoping to break the squid-trance. No good.

“Breathe Kim, breathe,” urged Sara, following Jack’s initiative. Other diners watched what was happening furtively, carnival fun quickly turning into something unpredictable. If the arrival of the soup was the Kennedy inauguration, this was rapidly becoming his grassy knoll moment, and no way did Sara want brains in her lap.

Appraising the situation, Jack stood up. Sara was struck by his height, and more by the fact that he stood fully upright, no slouching. He knew just what he was doing, going over to Kim and administering the kiss of life. It took just a few seconds, a micro-drama of pushing and touching and precision and caring and with a splutter Kim came to and was back with them in the restaurant, Jack flushed not with embarrassment at kissing a friend of his mum’s but pride at saving a life.

A slow ripple of applause circled the room - whistles too - and Jack beamed at onlookers. Sara swelled. Jack’s prolonged boyhood had come to an end with what may have been his first selfless act. Just before his 25th birthday, her son was a man.

July 24, birthday of Gus Van Sant

Swooping low over Melbourne, Jack gathered his flamingo buddies and flew high into the sky, fanning out. It was serene and cool up there, a glorious backdrop to a perfect day.

Somewhere out towards the sea was a microlight, putt-putting its way along the coast. Jack didn’t recognise the pilot, but somehow knew that it was Kirk. A few minutes flying in formation with him, and the microlighter signalled that he was planning on heading down to land.

Jack followed him down, to a beach bar where a dozen or so microlights were dotted about on the sand. Ordering a beer, Jack found himself the centre of attention of three women. They all looked pretty hot, but the one who attracted him most was a better looking version of Aimi. Not only was she sexier, she looked less inclined to shout with inchoate anger at Jack.

It unfolded like a porn film. In short order, the three women took Jack into a room they were sharing. Apparently there’d been a problem with bookings. Their bed was enormous. He’d never had reason to be in a quadruple kingsize before, but they made it clear this is exactly where they wanted him.

This is going to be good, thought Jack, whose sexual fantasies were typically interrupted. And though he knew this was make-believe he enjoyed it all the same. But no, the three beauties proceeded to do just the sort of things he looked forward to in situations like this. He whooped unself-consciously and dived into the beckoning flesh like a horny Jacques Cousteau.

Afterwards, reclining among a tangle of limbs, Jack looked up at a picture on a wall. A framed photograph of a room with white walls stretching in every direction.
Still, at least he’d had the pleasure of the young ladies before reality intruded. That was something.

July 25, birthday of Matt leBlanc

Jack and Josh arrived at a gelato place Jack remembered as being good. Josh indicated for Jack to get a table outside while he went in to buy some.

“What flavour?”

“Passion fruit and mango.”

“You have a car crash, and the big thing it leaves you with is a craving for gelato?”

“Haven’t stopped eating it since.”

“Just passion fruit and mango?”

“Not exclusively.”

“But if you were to graph your gelato consumption over the last…when was the crash?”

“Three days now.”

“I’m your best friend Jack. You can’t tell me for three days?”

“It shook things up.”

“Telling me.”

“Josh, are you jealous? You’re turning this into some weird chickflick conversation.”

A couple with a young child looked between Jack and Josh, wondering how they were going to get through. Josh came to, going into the store.

Jack watched as the owner – a man with a helmet of silver hair - unhurriedly dealt with the couple with the kid, then an old Middle Eastern looking guy. It was like he had a whole palette of colours before him in frozen form, handing them over to paint smiles on the faces of his customers.

Returning with two tubs, Josh passed one to Jack. He inhaled the cold as he spoke, trying to sound calm. “You know what? I don’t get bugged just because you don’t call for a couple of days.”

“You telling me how unbugged you were does little to convince me that you weren’t bugged.”

“Get lost.”

“You know what Josh? You look bugged to me. Right now, I’d say you look very much like someone who is bugged.”

“You can’t eat gelato and look pissed.”

That was enough to break the patina of tension, and relax into something that felt more like their friendship.

Josh neared the end of his pistachio chocolate blend before talking again. “Went to this thing last night. A talk, kind of. This guy, Max Bullion, makes heaps selling stuff, and teaching people how to do it. Made me realise what I want to do with my life.”

“You’re going to be a salesman?”

“Short term, yes. Longer term, I want to be where that guy is. Public talks. Workshops. Products.”


“The only way out of the 9 to 5 grind is getting people in front of you paying for information, and making that knowledge available in the form of products.”

“When did this come to you?”

“Last night.”

“And what knowledge have you got that you can sell?”

“Jesus, do you have to be such an asshole about this?”

“Maybe as a friend I’m used to getting your wisdom for free. How are you going to package it?”

“You’ve got photography going on, your show coming up.
I’ve been making flat whites for hipsters on Brunswick. Can’t you allow me a vision of something different?”

“Bet your guru can sell you a solution.”

“He’s not a guru, he’s a coach. But you know what Jack? Fuck you.” Josh got up and strode away.

Mostly, what Jack wanted at this moment was another mango and passion fruit gelato. And he now knew what he was going to do for the exhibition.

Jack’s knowledge of his father’s genitals was not exhaustive, but there was no mistaking the twin mole formation at the base of the cock that was before him, three or four times larger than in life and illuminated thanks to being stretched out on a lightbox. He’d seen the dual dots in his childhood quite a bit, Ian and Sara having a liberal attitude about nudity around their kids. The question was, where had Wendy Hayes got hold of an image of them?

He tried to ask as neutrally as possible, aware of the minefield he was walking into. “What you working on there?”

“Bloke I had a thing with. Usual story. Started out as a bit of fun a couple years back. Soon as I get vaguely serious, he tells me he’s still pooching the missus. They split up aeons ago, but he says they’re considering getting back together.”

Jack had started working with Wendy about last March. Thinking about it, dad had pointed him in her direction, without being specific of the nature of their contact. He’d assumed Wendy had done some work for one of dad’s clients.

As for pooching mum, Jack had come across no indication that it might be happening.

Really, none of this was stuff he wanted to be thinking about. He shut his eyes for a second, and saw a mental image of a flamingo being pulled into the water by some kind of tentacled beast.

“I’m thinking after the exhibition, it’s time to move on from here. You’ve taught me heaps Wendy, and because of you I know more about photography than I ever thought I would. But there are things happening for me right now. Decisions that I’ve got to make, that I have made.”

“I’ve deliberately not asked, but are you on top of things for the exhibition? It’s two days now. If there’s anything you need.”

“No, I’m cool.”

“I’ve not seen any of the work you’ve been doing for it, you’ve not spoken about it, and Yvonne called from the gallery the other day. She didn’t feel you were 100%.”

“I wasn’t,” said Jack honestly. “But now I am.”

Wendy held his face in her eyes. She believed him.

July 26, birthday of Mick Jagger

Ian Hamilton had grown up in England, and though after thirty years in Melbourne he considered himself one of the locals, still felt some nagging English reserve at times. This was one of them.

“You’re saying she’s got a picture of me with my tackle out?”

Jack nodded.

“Well there’s no point denying it son. We had a thing.”

“When did it end?”

“About a month back.”


“It was becoming clear that we were headed in different directions.”

“She said you were sleeping with mum again.”

“I let her think that, yes.”

“Do you want to get back together with mum?”

“The great unwashed always come first with Sara.”

“Architecture always came first with you.”

“I guess that’s what having a profession is about. Your mother and I have that much in common.”

“And a lot more.”

“But we’re not together again.”

“So why let Wendy think that you are?”

“There are some things that as a parent, are not easy to discuss with your children.”

“I’m 25 tomorrow.”

Ian went to the fridge, pulled out two bottles of imported beer, opened both and passed one to Jack.

“Odds are, you’ll be a parent too. One day.”

Jack shrugged. “Maybe.”

“You’d do anything for your kids.” His father’s sincerity was apparent.

“You’ve been great. You and mum.” There was a lump in Jack’s throat. He hadn’t been expecting this.

“Lucy was set on being a violinist. Looked like she could have made it. We never got to find out.”

Dead at 19, Jack’s sister was rarely mentioned. There were visual mementoes of her around both Ian’s place and Sara’s - photos of her with family members, things she’d made - but neither seemed to discuss Jack’s sister with him. Her absence was the vacuum around which they revolved, not drawing attention to it lest they be dragged in.

“I’m not sure what Lucy has to do with you and Wendy.”

“Lucy knew what she wanted in life from when she first picked up that violin. You drifted in and out of drawing, DJing, photography. We didn’t push. You chose to do the photography course. Afterwards, you…meandered.”

Jack raised a hand to protest but Ian continued.

“Your uncle Tony, back in England. To get the best school for their daughter, they pretended to be Catholic because the best school in the neighbourhood - the reason they moved there in the first place - was Catholic.”

“I don’t see what that has to -“

“You know I’ve had girlfriends since splitting up with your mum.”

Jack nodded.

“Then you’ll know Wendy isn’t like any of them. Different hair colour, build. Different everything from the others.”

“She’s bright, creative, pretty funny -“

“All of those things. And she was into me. Into me at a point when you weren’t doing much of anything.” Ian looked directly into his son’s eyes.

There were no words in Jack’s head, just a huge yearning.

“I did it for you Jack. I did it for you, until I couldn’t do it any more.”

July 27, birthday of Jack Hamilton

There was no point in being pissy with Jack for long. By now, Josh had pretty much forgotten what their upset had been about. Just the knowledge that there had been one remained, like finding a storage box put to one side, only it was empty and the label had blurry ink.

Besides, if there was one thing Josh knew about art shows, it was that they attracted women. Josh wasn’t big on art, but he knew how to build up a woman’s enthusiasm and reflect it back at her. It was shallow, and it worked, so why complicate things?

Jack never seemed to have the fluency that Josh did with women, which is probably why he seemed more stressed generally. If he had more luck on that front, Josh was sure Jack would be happier all round. A little more time, and he’d have won that Aimi round the other day. Sure, she was being snarky. What Jack failed to realise was that snarky is good. It meant her pulse was racing.

Sara and Kim both took a lime gelato from the silver-haired man who was serving them to the thirty or so people at the show. Who was in many ways its focal point, Jack capturing images of visitors eating the stuff in the gallery space. Going through into the next room Sara could see that, yes, this one’s walls were empty too. She hoped that Jack knew what he was doing, and would pull off whatever art stunt he was engaged in. He could have given her a heads-up. People would be asking the artist’s mother about his intentions, and what could she say?

Catching sight of Josh, she spotted a potential distraction for at least a few minutes. Maybe as Jack’s best friend, he would be the one to tell her and Kim what this was all about. Ice cream, ambient music, and blank walls? Was this a happening? Performance art? It was so hard to know what to do.

“Josh, this is my friend Kim.”

Right. Josh smiled. “Jack’s told me about you.”

Now, this was interesting, he thought. Josh had bedded Kirk some months ago. Could he go for the double? Kim was attractive enough, in a MILFy way. Which made her – in his eyes - open to his charms, if cougar was on the menu. Contours and soft bellies made a change from lean meat. No need to decide now though. It was still early.

Kim was puzzled momentarily, but then clicked. Josh wasn’t hitting on her, surely. But he was. Probably a reflex action because of the amount of sperm he was packing. Did he really think she was interested in someone two decades younger than her? Men in their mid 20s were still teenagers, geysers who didn’t mind where and when they erupted, but simply had to do so because of the pressure that was building up. She looked over to the gallery owner, Yvonne Forrester, wondering if she would provide some respite.

Oh Christ, thought Yvonne. Kim knows that I banged her husband. It had been a crazy one-off thing when Kirk had taken her microlighting one afternoon. Altitude, it turned out, was quite the aphrodisiac, at least when you relied on tight black strapping to keep air between you and the ground. He’d not been much of a fuck, but the sheer buzz of it all was memorable. And it looked like the bastard had spilled the beans to his wife.

On top of that, there was the business of whether Jack was going to pull off his plan for the show. There was clearly some puzzlement among viewers about the lack of anything to look at on the walls, but for now people were enjoying the gelato and the mingling. If Jack triumphed, Yvonne looked forward to taking credit for an audacious booking. If not…well, it was a noble experiment. For now, she’d bide her time.

Most of Yvonne’s job was about creating an atmosphere. She’d long ago accepted that the value of art was proportionate to the quality of the experience people had when walking in the space where it was presented.

Typically, she’d have it all nailed down a week before the show, but her longstanding relationship with Wendy, and the assurance the photographer had given about her protégé Jack meant that Yvonne had let things slip more than she’d done for years. There was a side of Yvonne that liked to live dangerously.

Jack looked like he was comfortable, so Yvonne was happy too, for now. Happy enough that she’d have a gelato in fact. While people were arriving she’d been queen bee hostess, but now people had fractalled into groups she could enjoy the flow of it all. Plus, anything that took her out of Kim’s line of sight had to be a good thing.

Lionel had been taken aback by Jack’s proposition, but on talking it through he realised the young man was serious, and pleasant with it. He’d checked out the gallery space with the woman who ran the space, Yvonne, who had the sort of face that his wife described as striking. It all seemed fine, if that’s what they wanted. Ices and art – why not?

“Ooh,” said Yvonne. “So many flavours to choose from.”

“Been making gelato in my family for forty years,” said Lionel with pride. “My mum learned from –“

“That’s fascinating,” said Yvonne, pointing at cherry.
Lionel passed her a tub scooped high. Her brusqueness didn’t upset him. Yvonne had to be super-welcoming and gracious with everyone. He was just hired help, someone she could be nonchalant with, save her energy for people with money.

“Nice one,” said Jack. He was pleased with the image he’d captured of Yvonne. Like Josh said, you couldn’t eat gelato and look pissed. Where was Josh in fact? He’d been hovering round Kim and his mum a while back, but five minutes was a long time for Josh in the company of so many women. Josh was a rogue comet, hurtling through life dispensing coffee and pheromones, attracted by the gravitational pull of every woman he saw, but in the end chasing his own tail as he’d never met anyone who could hold him in their orbit for more than a couple of weeks.

Whatever. He’d find Josh in good time. This was his night. And it was probably time to get started. Jack ran through the images he’d taken, selected the best, and sorted out the projectors so they could put the photos up on the walls. It was a set-up inspired by a club night he’d been to with Josh. While Josh flirted, Jack talked to the guy doing the A/V and learned a few things.

There was a hush as the images appeared, bright and larger than life, on the gallery’s white walls. It looked even better than Jack had imagined. Yvonne felt a surge of relief, knowing that things were going as intended.

Jack felt a surge of pride as the attendees took in the projections of themselves smiling as they ate gelato.
Some people stood in front of their own pictures, others circulated the space, variously studying and enjoying what they came and saw. Sara posed by hers, beaming with pride that her boy – her young man – had done something so sweet, so pleasing.

Lionel had to admit that the photos were pretty fine, and knew that he was part of the reason. That felt good. He treated himself to a tub of toasted coconut gelato and wandered round the main gallery space, feeling some sense of ownership. This was a night he’d tell people about.

Pulling up outside the anonymity of the gallery, a long and low former warehouse, Ian winced. Ideally, he’d not be here at all, and he’d thought of using the excuse that the garage hadn’t finished with the Audi. Coming face to face with both his ex wife, and the recently dumped girlfriend who he’d deceitfully informed he was back on fucking terms with said spouse…not easy. But this was Jack’s evening, and that’s what Ian held onto as he walked into the space, hearing in his mind what he took a few seconds to realise was Onward Christian Soldiers. Couldn’t fault his inner jukebox for ironic soundtracking.


He turned, and there was Wendy. She was tapping a plastic spoon against the waxy side of a tub of gelato, for some reason probably related to the projections of people doing the same on the walls. Before he could work out the protocol of the situation, she saved him by air-kissing just the one side of his face. He did likewise. Had they settled into wistful mutual affection? It was an outcome he was happy with.

“Jack’s blown me away with what he’s done,” said Wendy, indicating an image of a beaming middle-aged Korean woman caught unawares, bright colours and bliss. “So fresh. And fun. He can seem such a sombre soul. A lot of people think art has to be miserable to be taken seriously.”

There was a lump in Ian’s throat. Wendy caught some of what was going on for him, and offered a tender hand to his. They stood there in silence. He remembered what a good woman she was, and cried, and her squeezing his hand made tears flow all the more.

From across the other side of the space, Sara tightened inside as she saw Ian weep. Part of her wanted to find out what was happening. And whatever else there was to cry about, it always came back to losing Lucy. If she was still alive, would they still be together as a family?

Best not think about it. Not now. This was Jack’s night.
Josh stood outside the gallery, where it was quieter. Not that it was much easier to hear the call. It was Max Bullion. The sales guru was shouting, and there was white noise in the background. After that, the signal went. Then there was a text, asking Josh where he was. That done, Max sent another requesting that Josh get up onto the gallery roof. Figuring that dynamic sales coaches were a breed apart, Josh clambered up the fire escape at the side of the building expectantly.

Standing by one of the projections, Lionel was at first taken aback when text appeared on the image. Patrons of the gallery were invited to purchase t-shirts or prints of the photos from the show, either available for $100, with instructions on how to do so. So, Lionel nodded, this was how money came into it. A smaller man would have wished for a larger fee for his part in the proceedings. Lionel was happy to learn something.

Ian made his way over to Sara. Neither spoke, comfortable with each other, watching the buzz around them. People enjoying their son’s photography. Putting in orders for t-shirts and prints. Jack himself, accepting the praise he was offered with humility, and real interest in what people were saying. “A quarter of a century,” said Ian, putting an arm around Sara.

Attuned to the vagaries of the building, Yvonne noticed the thump coming from above her, and made her way outside to see a microlight. A microlight was on the flat roof of the gallery. What’s more, she heard the buzz of two others nearby, positioning themselves to come in to land.

She repeated the mantra her therapist had taught her, designed to remind her that – contra her previous therapist’s claim - she was not responsible for everything that happened in her life. But surely her last lover aerially gatecrashing a show that his wife was attending was some sort of karma?

What the fuck? Josh was hyper-excited. First, Max Bullion unstrapped himself from his microlight, and flashed his trademark smile. As he did, another microlight landed on the gallery roof, piloted by – Josh recognised the blonde beard, the piercing eyes - Kirk. And then a third, from which emerged an athletic woman in a vivid blue catsuit.
It was like the Fantastic Four had showed up.

Wendy was spooning gelato when the flyers entered the gallery. Everything rolled into one, hyperaware of the presence of the sky buccaneers, mingled with the electric taste of the sour cherry dessert, throat chilling and heart melting. She dimly remembered an article about orgone energy and thought yes, this is what it looks like, as she looked at - no, took in - the inescapable magnetism of the three newcomers.

There was a similar subliminal crackle through the other attendees. People with partners checked on their whereabouts, those without absorbed the erotic presence of the air-dandies and responded with longing, with admiration, with schemes for introducing themselves.

Kim was not immune to this, conflicted though she was to see her husband for the first time in three days. They were separated in all but word, and the worst part was that she couldn’t see any hurt in him. Bastard though he was, Kirk approached life with an equanimity that she found sickening. Why, when he was the one who was unfaithful, did she feel like she’d let him down? What gave him the right to look at her with compassion? Once again, she felt the urge to try and explain it to Sara, but her friend was simultaneously wrapped up in her ex-husband’s arms, and Max Bullion’s eyes.

“I’d like to introduce you to Jack,” said Josh.

Max beamed. “The artist.” There was no question in his tone, and Jack accepted the compliment with grace, along with the hundred dollar bill that he flourished. “I want a print, of Gloria.”

The woman in the catsuit did a little finger bob to establish that she was Gloria.

“I’d love to,” said Jack. Gloria beamed, and went over to Lionel, who served her a blueberry gelato. Jack knew that he’d captured her perfectly with his first photo. There was a quiet radiance about the image he couldn’t account for, all the more when he projected it onto the white walls.

The aviators moved on as one, Gloria looking back over her shoulder and smiling at Jack. His dad came behind him as Jack watched them go into the next room. “Looks like you’ve got an admirer there.”

“I might just, at that.”


And, later, $1400 richer, minus what he paid Lionel, just a handful of people left in the gallery space as Yvonne and Wendy and his parents helped pack everything down, Gloria came up to Jack and whispered in his ear. What she said, his dad didn’t catch. But she locked lips with him for a good thirty seconds and they kissed like angels. Josh whooped as they broke apart, and Jack flicked him an affectionate middle digit.

The banter continued as Jack followed the flyers outside.

“Come with us, mate,” implored Josh, standing between Kirk and Max.

“He doesn’t want to,” said Gloria.

“Bet?” said Josh.

“I asked him,” said Gloria.

Josh shot Jack a look. Gloria started on the fire escape.

“You’re kidding,” said Josh.

“Flying’s not for me,” said Jack. “Not yet, anyways.”

Max and Kirk followed Gloria up the steps. One big bloky hug with Jack later, Josh ran up after them.

The flight of the three microlights was precarious at first. Especially for whoever it was that had Josh as a passenger. They sputtered to begin with, and the sputter turned into a purr, and as they took flight over Melbourne each was a silhouette at first.

Pretty soon, lights on as they climbed higher, they might have been stars in the sky if you didn’t keep a close eye.

After that, it was like they’d never been there at all.