Cole Mohr flexes his solar plexus under the cold. In the afternoon, windows cage the remaining sunlight. There’s debris everywhere. Cole pokes his head into the fruit bowl.
“I hate avocados.”
He’s ripped his shirt for fashion, so you can see how shadow frames his collarbones. I intend to starve his autograph out of him. String his ribs closer – they’re more complex in the dark.
I watch him pick up an orange and mash it into his face. I reach for a box of tissues next to a hibiscus leaking red into a glass of water
“Oh, hey. Water.”
He downs the whole glass without touching the flower. Afterwards, he refills the glass, roughly wiping red from his lips.
“I don’t want anyone to know I’m here. Alright?”
“Yeah, sure. No-one here knows who you are anyway.”
“I’ll be your secret.”
“Maybe. I think Chris has an editorial of yours.”
I have the magazine with Cole Mohr’s editorial inside. I borrowed it. I refused to return it. It looks a little crumpled now.
“Just don’t say anything. He probably knows people in Paris.”
The tap is still dripping so I move to tighten it. It has become almost impossible to stem the flow entirely without using two hands and a teatowel. The movement is masculine.
The water on the bench from brewing tea hours ago doesn’t seem to dry. Cole slides over the floorboards to me, brushing the water off the table. He dries his hand on me and suppresses a giggle.
“That’s not model walking. But sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference.”
His toes are pivoted upwards for a moment. They’re white and numb.
“Do you have a Christian channel?”
“Yeah. In the living room.”
I turn on the television and Cole flicks through the channels, past the news, and the foreign languages, and Australian sport. When he reaches the Christian channel, there is a preacher perched in front of a deep blue carpeted wall. He’s speaking about the journeys of St. Paul. The audience is in padded seats of a more neutral blue. Every so often, people call out from the crowd, just beyond the reach of perception through the television speakers. The preacher always reiterates and speaks in absolute terms, quoting directly from the bible.
Wedged between him and a back wall is a video projector with maps and words that morph every few seconds. There is nothing liturgical. The roof of the arena is enclosed, filled with the silky light reflected through everywhere below. If there is a camera shot from behind, I see facial features studded on hundreds of people. “I want to see the Cathedral.”
“I don’t know.”
“Won’t people see you?”
“The Christians don’t know about hedonism yet.”
Pausing, Cole slides his tongue across his teeth to clean them. The preacher has expanded out from the arena to the street. Some university students are preparing to interrogate him. Their movements have been tamed by years of conditioning, living studies in decorum. The questioners’ complexions are a little sallow from a lack of sleep. Irony begins to crawl into their sentences, their movements become fiery. Tension turns everything silent.
The program is interrupted by a call for donations.
“Is it dark enough to leave now?”
“I can almost make out the glow.”
A portion of sun leaks milkily around the streetlights outside. Passing the living room window I see the violence on the television from an angle I’m making. From here, it looks like a man is being harpooned from a close range, but I can’t see past the reflection.
It rained earlier today. All the houses are soaked, darkened; even a few steps out of the driveway, our soles are moist enough to collect bitumen.
My neighbour, the Greek girl, is playing Clipse. She has her window closed, which blocks off the audio’s high end. I can’t make out the shapes of their syllables.
We’ve passed out to the next street now, there’s this old sandstone house that made me think of Imperial England. The auctions inside its gates every decade or so, where I’d trail behind my father for the spectacle. The Spice Girls thrown outside that Greek girl’s house. Cole Mohr is too old to understand, I think. I’d ask, but the street is now too silent to ease into those sentences.
Cole stares at the flow of old rain into the gutter.
“The air feels really light here.”
“It’s after the rain.”
“Is that the east?”
Cole points to the shaded blue over the cliff some streets away. I don’t answer.
His shirt doesn’t protect him from this cold, so I offer him my jumper. He refuses silently, but I can see his goosebumps. I warm his arms as far as I can reach with my hands and they disappear.
Cole and I skip through the wider streets where cars might have been. Cole peers over the houses to the overhead train cables, threaded above the trees. The sky is now vague, half-pink, in light, high clouds.
“Is anything haunted around here?”
“I don’t know.”
“In Houston, most houses have ghosts.”
“More people have died in Houston.”
By this point we’re around another corner, and nearing the train station. It’s downhill.
“Wait. There’s these houses.”
“The fenced ones?”
The newspapers have made a pulp in the front yards of both of these houses. No-one lives there anymore. The one on the right has open windows and a mattress in the open doorway. These are the houses I heard the young kids in my street form mythologies from, when I was walking home from school. There was something about dead old men looking for children to eat the life out of. I passed too quickly to hear anything further.
Every fifteen minutes, a procession fans out into the street from the train station. We have to scale temporary fencing without arousing any response. The bogan who lives next door normally gazes out of his front porch during office hours to make conversation with strangers, but today he’s perched inside, obscured by curtains, illuminated by the computer monitor.
We wait for some time leaning next to the advertising sign for the fencing company as men, women and schoolchildren filter into nearby houses. There is no retail for kilometres, so the people move home quicker.
By the time the street’s cleared out, the pink framing the hill over the train line has dulled to a thin twilight. I motion Cole over the fence.
“Which one’s first?”
“The left. Everything’s closed.”
Cole’s limbs are thrown out awkwardly when he tosses himself over the fence. I don’t think I’ve ever seen his knees exposed in photos. They jut out like on a skinny kid.
Cole lands on The Leader from a Thursday in July. Ink water swills and peaks out, over, into the soil. You can almost make out the image of an elderly man with a white collar, and some runny words. Cole dashes to the door and tries turning the knob, but it’s fastened shut. Maroon paint defoliates with each effort and forms a puddle of white undersides at our feet.
“Try the window.”
I’m too short, so Cole reaches up to move the frame upwards. It slides with ease. Cole gives me a leg up and we’re inside, eating the musk. I’m treading lightly over the smudged rug, but Cole measures his steps with brashness. Further into the room, I can’t find the wall in the dark. Cole’s footfalls decay through a doorframe to my left. This room is empty, dry, gyprock and dust easing into the air. I can’t tell what it was used for in the light leaking from the window.
I realise I can’t hear Cole anymore, so I detach myself, entering the hallway. Glass-mounted picture frames line the wall. The back door is barely ajar, leaving floorboards exposed. They’re distant, framed by invisible metres and slight light off the glass. I start walking out with my arms tracing the walls, but I’ve lost the texture in the floor.
The light from the door begins to form colour around floral wallpaper, just past the light switch.
The kitchen is quieter, out from the street, folding over its own resonance. I don’t think I can hear the ghosts or Cole.
It’s night when I open the back door fully, Cole’s bracing himself to jump the other fence.
“That house isn’t haunted. It doesn’t even have draughts.”
“Who owns it?”
“I don’t know, it’s your neighbourhood.”
This time I beat Cole over the fence and race up the stairs into the open back door. The floor’s soggy underfoot. I can see out to the house opposite. The carpet looks like it’s covered in soap loam.
“How long has the mattress been there?”
“I can’t think of the house without it. But it doesn’t seem the same from this angle. The light comes out, to us.”
Cole immediately pulls me into a miscellaneous room to my left. He’s forcing his fingers over my lips so I can’t speak. He’s covering my eyes. I’m anchored to him.
Nothing is dry, not even the back of his shirt. Hibiscus air plumes through his throat and out over my face and he’s gone further into the room.
I can’t open my eyes wider, but it’s still black in the room. I try to listen for Cole, but I can’t hear the room over my breath.
I look in every room, but they’re all blacked out. The walls are an obtuse, yawning space away from the doorframe, too shapeless to feel a way into or out of. When I look out, the street-lit hallway always looks the same. The ghosts, if they were ever here, are too blank to breach the darkness.
I walk out the front door. The mattress takes the same form as before, but everything’s duller in the streetlight.
Climbing over the fence, I can just make out the moon from the glow.