She had come to the park because on Thursday afternoons there was a man in a blue kaftan who told your fortune. He has many methods, but he is renowned for divining fate from the last paperback you’ve read. Millie hands over her collection of Canadian short stories and ignores his churlish eyes, keenly tuned to rat out any hint of pretension. He inspects the spine and the corners, the inside cover and the deep valleys between the pages. He smells the book. He balances it on his index finger and watches it with one eye, like she had seen a blacksmith do with a sword on a Lord of the Rings documentary. He hands her book back to her and tells her she is resisting the process.
But I haven’t done anything, she says.
With a sniff he gives back her book with her five dollars fifty and advises her to enjoy the sun while it was still out. She does her best to conjour an air of scandal and pulls on Bentley’s leash for a walk around the park. She doesn’t really care. She had been a believer in her youth, but today’s exercise was more about the motions and satisfying a long-standing curiosity about Blue Kaftan’s methodology. Millie considers herself satisfied and is happy for Bentley to choose their route around the park.
There is a large and vocal section of the population determined to convince her that she has no future. That the end is nigh and nigh-er. They walk through the city on Saturday mornings with green t shirts with a trident like footprint on the front*. Bentley sniffs the ground, but she lets it go by because it is a whole body length away from her.
She could go home, but there is no one there. She is in the habit of reminding herself that she wasn’t lonely, she was just alone and there is a distinction between the two. If she needed to talk there were people she could call. A whole list of people. She could even call Lachlan. They were both adults and had been through much worse than this. If he had done anything to hurt her, she hadn’t noticed. Facts about him remained factual and like a struggling DJ she ran the gauntlet of classic hits:
#1. We are very different people.
#2. He isn’t generous.
#3. He doesn’t ask me any questions.
#4. (with a bullet) He snores.
The park is green and has four paved paths that converge in the centre with a collection of feature bushes and perennials. The civic gardener had spelt something out with pansies but she couldn’t read it. What looked like bees tending the petals turns out to be blowflies. She turns around to look for Blue Kaftan. He has disappeared. Except for her and Bentley, the park is empty. She looks down to her pet pig^, who does what he is supposed to do, and makes her smile.
Every time she opens her mouth another reason not to be with her flies out. It flits around his ears on gossamer wings for a few seconds and then dies painfully of suffocation. Reasons not to be with her can only survive in the specially formulated atmosphere found in her abdomen.
If he had another chance, and he desperately wants one, he could drive her mad in a minute. He had finished reading Chekhov. All of Chekhov. He finally understood how he should have been around her during the time they were officially a couple. Three months after the fact, Lachlan realised that Millie thrived on frustration. If the troubles of wealthy Russian landowners in decline had taught him anything, it was that Millie wanted to be provoked each morning as she swallowed her green sludge probiotics*.
Probiotics. What a stupid word. Nutritionists should leave the invention of words to the professionals, he thinks.
The only waitress in the place eats her lunch of two poached eggs on toast at the table next to him. He considers choosing a tart that he doesn’t want from the display case just to disturb her. The scene following would interest him. How well he could feign nonchalance as he makes his way from the table. How skilfully he could keep her exasperations in his peripheral vision. No, don’t get up, I didn’t realise. Don’t be silly, please eat your lunch. Oh, all right, if you don’t mind. I’ll have a lemon meringue pie. Is that gluten free? No?
Can it be?
He has it out for the waitress population because his friends have dragged him to be near the beach. He can see the sandy grass through the window. Not content with their nay saying from an urban distance these friends sought validation of their urban sensibilities on the very doorstep of potential disaster. And besides, Lachlan needs to build a fucking bridge. All the while Lachlan sits in this café with its black leather arm chairs and enjoys these seats abject refusal to be carefree, sea breeze or nautical. So bulky and numerous are they that people must contort themselves around them to reach the window seats. They surround him, like the perverted dream of a Japanese television producer.
He pulls his fringe down and looks at the world outside. Little kids run along the jetty wearing dark green dinosaur hoods^. That is sick, he thinks. He doesn’t believe all these chicken bone philosophies but there are limits. What does it mean about human kind if we can miniaturise the possibility of our own destruction and give it to our kids to hit each other with? It’s either a very good thing, or a crying shame. Not for the first time today, he wishes he had a pen to write his thoughts down.
Here at the end of the world, Lachlan wonders if it would be better to be with someone who doesn’t love him anymore or with no one at all. Outside, on the jetty, a little boy in a green hood with teeth along the seam pretends to devour his mother.