Alice convinced Paul to go for a walk with her, along the white, gravel trail that they had never ventured upon, even though it was only a ten minute walk from their flat. It wasn’t particularly strange that they had never walked there. The trail was adjacent to the main road that they walked along every week day – always in a hurry, either to get to the train station or to get home after a long day – alongside a grassy embankment that sloped down to a creek. A brown, shallow and often stagnant creek. There was nothing remarkable or seemingly appealing about the location. But Alice wanted to get out of the house, and wanted to see where the trail led. She had caught Paul in a generous mood this Sunday afternoon, and together they walked towards the main road, each in their own thoughts.
The weather was strange: grey, unfriendly sky, but with a bright glare from the sun; wind whipping at the trees and their hair, but a warm, pleasant wind.
“Do you think I should have brought my umbrella?” Alice asked.
“No. All the clouds are too white and wispy, look,” Paul answered, pointing skyward.
“Right, no cumulus clouds,” Alice said, remembering a term from high school science class.
Paul made a face as though she had misunderstood, and went back to his own thoughts. “I don’t know why I’m out here. I have so much I need to do,” he suddenly complained.
Alice didn’t understand why he would say that: Before they left the house he had been playing an online computer game, as he so often did. She disregarded the comment and turned her attention back to her surroundings.
“At least it’s warm today. I feel like it hasn’t been warm in months.”
“We should have done the washing. Good weather for drying it out.”
“Oh yeah. I’ll put it in the machine when we get back.”
“It’ll be too late in the day.”
They were at the main road now, waiting for the green pedestrian crossing signal.
“It’s so quiet on a Sunday,” Alice said.
“Yeah, let’s cross after this car passes.”
They crossed the traffic-free road, and Alice looked at the path ahead. The trail curved away to the left about 500 metres away. She at least wanted to see what was around the corner.
“Look at the dead tree.” Alice pointed to a twisted and surrealist-looking specimen next to the trail. “I love that. Creepy-cool.”
“God, this neighbourhood is rubbish. There’s nothing here.”
“The wind feels nice. Wild and invigorating but warm and sort of relaxing, you know?”
Paul sighed. “I work all week and it’s like, I come home and I can’t relax because there’s more work to be done.”
Alice was vaguely aware that they were having two parallel conversations. Not wanting an argument, she accepted this and they continued in their own, separate dialogues.
They soon rounded the bend in the trail, the creek rounding with them. There was a grassy area with a rickety-looking wooden table – the kind with a bench on either side – and a rather paltry attempt at a playground behind it: a rectangle of sand upon which stood a small, plastic slide and two animal-shaped seats on bouncy springs – a red rooster and a yellow chick. What caught Alice’s eye first were the flowers in amongst the grass.
“Hey, daisies! I haven’t seen daisies in ages. Reminds me of when I was a kid.”
“Pfft. Reminds me of lousy times as a kid.”
“Waiting around, having nothing to do.”
“I made daisy-chains once with my friends. That was great.”
“Are we going to get moving?”
“Ha-ha! Look at the playground. Poor effort.”
“This whole place is depressing.”
Alice considered walking on, then decided that there probably wouldn’t be anything else to see, just more trail and more creek. “Well, it’s somewhere to sit. Shall we?”
Alice was already moving to a bench. She sat facing in the same direction that they had been walking, and looked toward the creek, which continued to curve away into the distance. A line of tall, dark-green trees was being buffeted by the wind on the far side. Paul sat opposite Alice with his head on his fist.
After a while, Alice spoke. “I’m applying for a mentorship program for writers. They pair you up with a published author who helps you with your work.”
“Oh boy, that’d be a thrill.”
“It would keep me on track and give me some perspective on my work.”
“I’d never take advice from some hack writer. Just because they’ve been published doesn’t mean they can critique other people’s work. It doesn’t even mean they’re any good.”
Alice hadn’t particularly been expecting a positive response. Her mind wandered somewhere else, and she voiced what she found there. “I’ve been reading this book about writing and how to get in touch with your subconscious. It’s really interesting. It’s not about the technical aspects of writing but about the creative process and opening up mental pathways. Some of the exercises have been really helpful. Have you ever –”
“That’s good, but are you keeping up with your study?”
“You’re near the end of your degree. You don’t want all that effort to go to waste now, do you?”
“You don’t even know what you’re talking about. I’ve been getting good marks for my assignments this semester, thanks very much.”
“Okay, it just seems like you’re not spending much time studying. In less than a year you’ll be finished and you can get a job. Then we can finally more out of this dump.”
“Can you just…? Forget it.”
“Nothing. Shut up.”
Alice glared at the trees tossing about in front of the grey sky.
A few moments later Paul sighed and rubbed his scrunched-up face. “Argh, I could be doing something right row instead of being out here doing nothing.”
“Like what? Another quest on your computer game?”
“No. I have things I really need to do.”
“Well I don’t see what being here has to do with it, since you’d only be playing games if you weren’t here.”
“I need to have fun at the end of the week. It keeps me occupied. Then I don’t have to think about all the shit I have to do.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Do you mean your thesis that was supposed to be finished before you started your job two years ago?”
“Just forget it!”
They sat in silence. Alice focussed on the warm wind and the tree-lined creek – a little sad-looking, but somehow appealing in its wistfulness. She looked at Paul. He looked sullen. She thought about telling him to go home. But the prospect of coming across a strange man – or men – on the otherwise deserted trail, and the knowledge of the drug-taking, graffiti-tagging teenagers that sometimes congregated under the part of the main road that formed a bridge over the creek, frightened her. Even with that aside, this place – new and emotive and mysterious as it was now – would, she suspected, be intimidating and desolate if she were left here alone.
Paul broke the silence. “Why would you want to come here? I hate places like this. It reminds me that I live in this hole where nothing good ever happens. At home I can do things I enjoy and forget about where I am.”
“Well, in this sort of place I can forget about where I live and what I ‘should’ be doing. I can feel connected to this undefined space – somewhere that has no relevance in my life. It’s like an in-between place.”
Paul took this in for a moment before responding. “Oh.”
The wind had gained strength and seemed aggressive. After another few moments Paul’s patience ran out, but he voiced the question gently; “Can we go now?”
“Yeah, just one minute.” Alice took in the scene and tried to seal it away inside herself. “Okay, let’s go.”
As Alice got up Paul did so faster and rounded the table to stand in front of her. She looked at his earnest face. He spoke in contrite, imploring tones. “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to come out. I only came because I knew it would make you happy.”
Alice seethed. Did he think she could possibly have missed his initial reluctance and, later, gross displeasure? Did he want her to be grateful? She put away her indignation and kept her voice even. “Thanks for coming with me.”
He seemed pleased, and took her in a firm embrace.
She held onto him and looked to the horizon over his shoulder. Dense, grey clouds were coming in now. “We’d better get moving,” she said.
As they moved across the grass towards the trail Alice noticed again the smattering of yellow. In a brief moment she realised she was about to step on a little patch of daisies, decided against changing the course of her foot and stomped, bitterly, onto the flowers’ faces.
Paul walked resolutely in contemplative silence. He seemed satisfied, Alice thought, that something had been settled. She kept her eyes to the path and said nothing.
They walked home this way. Each in their own, separate silence.
Candy Caradoc lives in Melbourne, Australia. Last year she completed a thesis on uncanny representations of the effects of narcissistic parenting in Hoffmann’s The Sandman and Aronofsky’s film Black Swan. One of her stories, about a woman in love with a straw man, appears in Dog Horn Publishing’s Women Writing the Weird.