Every morning in the week before his death, while singing to himself and walking to the spot where he waits in the dawn haze for the bus to pick him and the others up and shuttle them to the factory on the edge of town, the Dead Man passes an apartment block where a small boy, arms hanging off the third-floor balcony, points a toy pistol at him. It is early, the smog, having settled to street level overnight, only just beginning to lift, and the child, in wait for his prey—even on the third day, when it rains—aims the pistol at the Dead Man, lines him up, then pulls the trigger, maybe more than once. The gun makes no sound, or any sound it does make is lost in the hubbub of a neighbourhood shaking itself awake, and the bullets pass right through him, as though he is already dead.
Became infatuated with a girl who worked at Style Heaven, a quiet shop in the plaza selling women’s clothes with silver mannequins in the window display and sale prices printed on coloured paper taped to the glass. He was 14 or 15, she was a few years older, lived nearby, never knew her name, followed her to work from her home two or three times and would have made it a fourth if she hadn’t scowled at him when their eyes met, a look telling him in no uncertain terms to stay away because what he wanted could not be. This is what he thinks of as salty water fills his lungs and he sinks to the floor of the harbour, thinks not of death but of how he never said a single word to the girl, nothing, instead had only imagined conversations in private moments, and if he’d said something, really, anything, then maybe she would remember him in some way.
The one person who he knows will think of him is his old mother, boiling vegetables and swatting at a fly right at that moment in the kitchen, the sound of the television and the beating of the ceiling fan coming from the sitting room, only she will miss him and never admit he is dead, not to anyone and not to herself, refusing to ever say a single prayer for him, preferring to believe he set off from home that evening with everything he needed to begin a life elsewhere, in Sydney, as he’d once told her, where he promised he would find a nice girl and start a family and buy a fancy car, play with his boys in the sun, the yard so wide they could have a full game of cricket.
She paints her toenails cherry red in the morning sunlight while thinking of a pair of perfectly soft kid leather gloves, now long lost, and also of the salt lake she visited on a holiday weekend away with friends years ago, on the opposite side of the world to where she calls home now, the lake as flat as a mirror, endless, very nearly an extension of the sky but only ankle-deep. Wore the gloves there, which she knew not because she remembered doing so but because of the memory of the photographs the six friends took, the gloves on her hands in every shot. Cold outside, trees in the distance leaning away for the wind, but warm in the apartment, behind the floor to ceiling window, the heat of the sun making the nail polish dry too quickly.
On the way back from the lake, the tour bus stopped at a roadside diner called The Happy Flamingo Café. Before the group entered, she took off the gloves and put them in her pocket so she could brush away the salt crusted on her from wading in the lake—the last trace of her gloves. Apart from a man eating alone at a table in the back, they were the restaurant’s only customers and were waited on by a boy and a girl with absolute attention. They were brought cold beers on trays and big servings of stew and breads and other traditional foods and before they left, the lights dimmed and the man at the back, either the owner of the restaurant or a customer—she can’t remember which—was given a microphone and he sang the most beautiful song she’d ever heard while never quite stepping out of the shadows.
Tristan Foster is a writer from Sydney, Australia. He is the author of Letter to the Author of the Letter to the Father and 926 Years, co-authored with Kyle Coma-Thompson.