Legend has it there was this lady who loved birds. She lived in Blackheath and she watched them in the trees and on the grass and sipping the pollen out of the grevilleas. She loved the birds very much, but truthfully, the birds loved her more. They watched her from the trees and the grass and the blossoms. Some of them watched her very close. They would perch on her shoulder and pick at the threads in the sleeve of her jumper, and make soft, happy sounds in her ears. They would walk up her extended arms like post-op patients taking their exercise. People were quite scary things generally, and not to be trusted, but the lady was different, and the birds knew it. She was taller than the bottlebrush. She knew how to be as quiet and still as a scribbly gum. They made up songs about her and they sang these in the mornings, full throated and strong with melodies that stretched almost as long as a summer afternoon. The birds loved the lady and the birds lingered. They kept an eye on things. That’s what I hear.
Cherie likes summer in a very particular way. She sits on a big stripey towel on the beach smothered in Reef Oil and she bakes herself till she’s almost leather. She does all this while devouring crime stories from cold places. She swelters beside the lifeguard shelter in an icy barn on the outskirts of Stockholm. Two brothers are there with a hessian bag. Something is in it. There’s a weight to it. The earth outside is frozen, but the barn floor is a little warmer. The older brother breaks it with a mattock. The two of them dig a hole, unobserved. The bag will go in it. They will put a generator on top of it which no one would think of moving. The younger brother makes a black joke about gorgons. Cherie shivers.
On the beach there are parents smothering their kids in factor 30 and teaching them to swim out past the breakers to the sandbar. There are volleyball games and the odd hackeysack. Near the southern end there’s a pool full of kids and old folks and just up the stairs there’s an ice cream truck with a long line snaking around the shady side.
The tide is low and the Nor’Easter isn’t in just yet. A surfer strides out of the waves and chats to a lifeguard. Just near the waterline two brothers are filling in a hole. They are burying their sister till all you can see is her head. Cherie shivers and turns the page.
There’s a bit in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet where Hamlet writes a letter to his girlfriend Ophelia, and signs off with a heartfelt valediction ‘while this machine is to him’. The ‘machine’ is his body, and this bit always makes Len feel like Hamlet is Robocop. Or the Terminator. A more bionic sort of man. Steely arms and a hard stare. Legs like pistons. Less room for philosophy and more for action. The very thing Hamlet lost the name of. Len thinks about this in period six on a Wednesday afternoon and imagines his Hamlet as a vengeful cyborg, a creature that is half human and half manufactured to have superior strength and power, and not a lot in the way of a moral compass. And he’s not much for soliloquies. But he has GPS and that’s how he tracks down Claudius way before any bout at fencing or poisoned chalice. In Len’s Hamlet Claudius is dispatched in Act II and everyone gets an early mark, which is good because that means Len can get his machine to footy practice ahead of time.
Cal’s name isn’t short for anything so perversely people make it longer. He gets California, Caltex, and his mum calls him Calamine. She spells it Cal o’ mine on his birthday card. She is a bit tickled by this joke. There is this girl in his chemistry tute who has cracked one of those strange evolving nicknames which began as Calorie, then became Kilojoule and now he’s just become Jules. That’s what everyone at uni calls him, and he likes this, having a different name in this whole other place. Jules is different to Cal. Cal wears pyjamas his mum bought him for his birthday, and he plays indoor soccer and has trouble sleeping. When he can’t sleep he watches early episodes of Dr Who on YouTube. Jules though talks about music and tries to crack onto girls by discussing quality documentaries and the relative alcohol content of the limited range of cocktails available at Happy Hour at Manning. The girl in his chemistry tute is responsible for all this, this transformation into a much cooler dude. That girl, that deus ex machina of a lass, calls herself Lil but everyone knew her as Nancy. Lil and Jules quite liked each other and once after chem prac they saw a band together just two blocks from campus in the courtyard of a badly gentrified pub, and they nearly got together, they nearly kissed, they certainly thought about it, but Cal and Nancy intervened and so they ended up being just friends. Cal and Nancy should jolly well mind their own business.