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The Opposite Direction

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“We don’t do this enough,” Gary said, phlegm bubbling faintly in his chest. I set a bottle of port onto the table. Glasses clinked. Gary sat first. Nigel told us he once changed nappies on that table. Ate runny stews that splattered everywhere. Spread travel brochures showing glossy St Petersburg buildings over the varnish. That table absorbed cigarette smoke and drops of spilled espressos. We sat and Nigel traced its wood grain trailing across the surface, like the lines of low-pressure troughs. 

“When the humidity is high you smell a dirty flannelette shirt from whoever cut the tree down. An odour of a roll-your-own too. Maybe a dash of aftershave from the night before.” Nigel smiled.     

The working week ended two hours ago. Felt my blood pressure drop, expecting the thin hand on Nigel’s barometer to fall to “fair” as I stood next to it. Heat pressed through the evening, late sunlight glaring dirtily with smoke and dust. Nigel dealt cards. They flicked unevenly towards us. Gary studied his. He announced he wanted to move to Yarrawonga. Up north on the Murray River. Sell here, buy there. He’d pass stalks of wheat, moving together in breezes perfectly as synchronized swimming. Sit on riverbanks watching brown waters ripple by, doze under willow trees.

“What about the heat?” I said. “Blow your nose you’d risk dehydration.” Gary replied that four pubs lined the main street. Air conditioning and cold beer were all civilization needed.

He held up cards as if they were one of those hand-painted Chinese fans from souvenir shops. He whisked one out, rearranging it next to others. He concentrated, eyes dark.

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