Ivan turned heavily in his sleep. He was curled tight; sweat seeping into his flannelette pyjamas. Cherry sat up in bed in her curlers, staring into space. She looked around the small room with its olive walls and tasselled lampshades, her gaze finding the Jean Harlow portrait. That's the hairstyle for the wedding, she thought, stroking her naked ring finger.
She looked over at Ivan, who was having a disturbing dream. She reached over to the nightstand to see what he'd been reading: An Actuary’s Comprehensive. She smiled, wetting her lips with her tongue. She cleared her throat and adjusted the front of her negligee. “Darling,” she whispered, touching the sleeping Ivan on his shoulder. He rolled over and she shook him slightly. Ivan blinked, before reaching for his glasses.
“I wasn’t snoring?” He asked, getting out of bed. “I’ve been having these dreams. I should see the Doctor." Cherry smiled and peeled the blankets back slowly. Ivan gulped. He looked at the ceiling for a moment, and then, smoothing his hair, padded over to mantelpiece and picked up a record. Cherry rolled her eyes.
“May I have this dance?” Ivan put out his hand, as the first crackling notes of, There’s danger in your eyes, started.
They danced around their room, Ivan stopping every so often to hitch his pyjama bottoms up, and Cherry leaning forward suggestively. When the song stopped, Ivan pulled away, wheezing, but Cherry grabbed him.
She whispered, "Darling..." in a way that reminded Ivan of the drunk he saw every day on Flinders Street.
“You will ask me soon, won’t you? I’m getting tired of pretending,” she sniffed. She put on a silk dressing gown and lit a cigarette, positioning herself in the armchair. Ivan sat down on the end of their bed and studied the ceiling.
“You’re not…you know…are you?" she asked, grinding the cigarette hard into an ashtray. But Ivan had drifted back to sleep.
* * *
The violin in Flinders Street station always made Ivan feel ill at ease. Life is hard enough, he thought, as he made his way up to the entrance. Today it was an erratic mix of notes; haphazard and chaotic. Ivan wished there was some way to escape. He jostled with the other men in suits and hats, queuing down the steps. He held a brown paper bag in one hand; his coat draped over his arm.
Just as he reached out to take his ticket from the man behind the desk, he noticed it. A chicken! On Platform One!
"Sir!" The man behind him touched his shoulder and Ivan moved to the side transfixed, watching the brazen animal waddle behind a post.
He was jostled onto the train, still craning his neck, but he had lost sight of the strange creature. What is it doing there, and why doesn't anyone notice?
As the train rattled toward Richmond, he felt nauseous. Well I was dancing until late. He was about to stand up, when he noticed a flash of red and brown again on the platform. He strained forward to see if he could see it and sure enough, there it was. Everyone around the platform was oblivious to it.
Out on the platform he was stuck behind a woman in the cream dress and noticed she was crying.
“Why don’t you want me? I'm not Jean Harlow, but...” she sniffed to a man in a grey coat.
"Excuse me Sir, I need to..." Ivan tried to push past the couple. The man pulled the woman into him. Suddenly the woman broke the embrace and jumped back.
“Look! There! I have to catch it!” She pointed down onto the tracks at the chicken, making its way along one of the sleepers. She ran over to the edge and pulled the man in the grey suit toward the beast. Ivan felt a gust of wind and watched in horror, as the nose of the train edged toward the chicken.
Then, with an ear-piercing scream and a blur of cream and grey, the woman and the man were gone. Ivan held the image in his mind long afterwards, the woman's pale hands reaching for the chicken.
* * *
The next morning, Cherry was cooking when Ivan woke, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes.
“Dreaming of our honeymoon?” asked Cherry, sidling up to him.
“The question. You asked me a question last night,” he said, straightening. Cherry froze. She clasped her hands together and took a deep breath.
"Yes Darling?" She winked at Jean Harlow.
“The answer is no. I am not...I am absolutely not...a chicken!” And with that, he took his hat from the top of the wardrobe and nodding to her, walked out into the hallway in his pyjamas, shutting the door firmly behind him.