The fish swims with its wooden fins nailed to the wall, a static body, brushed with white paint. A woman sits on a balcony. She watches the chai latte moon spill milk out onto the ocean.
‘God damn it,’ she whispers.
The woman pivots a wine glass in her fingers, squinting as her hand ceases up. Her wet hair feels cold on her neck. She swirls the wine again, all too aggressively, and it spills from the top of the glass. Cars glide down the road, in the distance, twinkling like slow-moving comets.
‘Fourth of September?’ she whispers. ‘Mm, fourth of September.’
She nods her head slightly, sighing. Of course she missed the deadline. She always does. She peers through her wine glass at the seaside town. It’s skewed and foggy. To the right of the headland, a ship crawls along the ocean.
‘A caterpillar with one hundred golden boots,’ she says, smiling at herself.
Maybe she’ll write that one down. The doorbell shrieks.
When the man steps into the apartment she directs him to the dining room. The man studies the two chairs and settles for the Cherry Wood. He plays with a tassel on the table-throw.
‘Would you like a glass of wine, sir,’ she asks, winking.
‘No, a tea would be better.’
She gives a slight nod and a small smile.
‘Ok,’ she says.
In the kitchen, steam drifts from an orange teacup. The woman snaps five squares of chocolate from a Dairy Milk bar.
‘Ouch,’ she says, scraping cold chocolate from under her fingernails.
Glancing at the orange cup, she notices the tea’s dark shade. She wonders if it is bitter. She quickly lifts the teabag from the cup and drops it into the sink. Liquid escapes from the white mesh like a punctured soup dumpling. There are eight cold teabags sitting, slumped, by the drain.
The man is rubbing at his forehead when she walks in. His scalp is smooth and glossy.
‘I must be home by seven-thirty,’ he says.
‘But, you only just got here,’ the woman says, placing the tea down with quivering hands.
‘I would like to spend more time with you, but, I’m a Manager. I have work to do tonight. People depend on me. ’
The woman sighs, placing her hands on her hips.
‘I have to do work tonight as well,’ she says.
‘Yeah?’ the man says.
‘I’m a writer,’ she says, proudly. ‘I enter competitions to win money.’
‘How interesting,’ he says.
The woman smiles weakly, pulling a strand of hair behind her ear.
‘Stay the whole hour, at least?’ she says, fluttering her eyelashes.
The man ignores her, cradling his teacup in large, weathered hands. He lifts the cup to his nose and breathes in the steam. He brings it to his lips. She feels her stomach sink.
‘No!’ she says.
The man looks at her with wide, husky-blue eyes, the teacup frozen at his lips.
‘What? Did you poison this?’ he asks.
She rubs her fingers down her chin and laughs.
‘No, it’s just too hot to drink.’
He nods sternly, inspecting his Rolex, before standing abruptly.
‘Where are you going?’ the woman asks, panicked. ‘Please don’t leave. I need you.’
The man unclips his name badge and places it gently on the table. He grabs at a lace on his medallion captoe Balmoral and loosens his tie.
‘It’s 6:30pm,’ he says. ‘We must make the most of our time together.’
She hates the feeling of lying in bed in only a chemise. The doona is rough against her skin.
‘Why do you see men?’ the man asks, rubbing at his bare chest with glazed eyes. ‘At your age?’
‘I just do.’
The man nods before stepping out of bed. He stands by the mirror, twisting his shirt into position.
‘Don’t you have a family? A son? A husband?’ he asks, smoothing out his tie. ‘Why do you live at the beach? Property is expensive here.’
‘I like it here.’
The man runs his fingers against the top of his head as he smirks.
‘You’re running from something aren’t you?’ he says, staring at the woman’s mirrored reflection.
The man turns to the door and raises his voice as he walks from the room. She follows.
‘You know how the moon on the horizon is an optical illusion…?’ he says. ‘It seems bigger and better because you think it’s far away?’
When the man reaches the dining room, he turns to face her, pinning his name badge onto his dress shirt. David Kerning.
‘It’s the same old moon,’ he says, staring at the woman intensely. ‘It’s no bigger and no better. It’s not actually far away.’
The woman shrugs.
‘My money?’ she asks.
He pulls an envelope from his pocket and passes it to her.
‘There’s 75 dollars. As agreed.’
She opens the envelope, thumbing through the notes. She nods.
‘Let yourself out when you’re ready. If you’d like to see me again, you know where to book me.’
The woman turns and walks down the hall. She swings her hips, smiling when the headland comes into view. She hears the door close. A tiny click. She sits on the balcony pivoting a wine glass in her hand. In the other hand, she holds a lead pencil and scribbles in her notebook. When the woman’s hand begins to cramp she raises the wine bottle to her lips. She sucks in the fruity liquid and watches the cars glide down the road in the distance. At 10pm, she walks back down the hall and stuffs the empty teacup in a cupboard. In the shower, she rubs Argan oil into her hair and listens carefully for the 10.30 doorbell.