This is an extract from Tincture issue 3, which was reviewed yesterday by Veronica Sullivan
by Ira McGuire
I notice rust stains on the chain of the swing. I remove my hand and look at my palm, now smeared with brown. I smell copper and resist wiping my hand on my skirt. Gabrielle, my daughter, sits next to me, her brow damp like her enthusiasm. The temperature is hovering around thirty-eight, the humidity like being stuck in an overcrowded elevator. My husband Scott stands a few feet away with his camera and I imagine the pictures—one grim-faced woman, one sweaty child on a swing, under a drooping trellis. I watch another stray cat walk past, its tail trailing behind it, a matador after a long fight. So many cats. Golden statues with one paw waving, feral cats in the food halls, the markets, asleep on benches.
“Can we go now Mum?” Gabrielle is impatient, like me. I see an ice-cream stall and get off the swing.
“I’ll get you an ice-cream to cool off,” I say and walk into the full sun.
Ice-cream drips over Gabrielle’s new dress. The dress has stretched, shapeless with her sweat, so I don’t much care. Scott aims at Gabrielle’s smeared face. The camera makes a sound, like rusted cogs. Maybe the humidity is about to kill the camera. I realise it’s something I’m hoping for, something to ruin his day.
We walk towards a monstrous dragon, several metres high, at an entrance to a tropical garden walk. Gabrielle glances at it warily, then shrugs and walks past. She looks over her shoulder though, to make sure the dragon isn’t following. Scott walks ahead of us. I watch him hopping on stones and rocks next to the path. He looks like a large child. A family of four stands in front of a koi pond. The family is neatly dressed, the children in knee socks and patent shoes, reminding me of private school excursions. The whole family smiles, the father nodding and gesturing at his camera. Scott pretends not to see them, pointing his camera past the koi pond. I approach, extending my arm and the father gives me the camera. I motion for the family to squeeze closer together. I stare at them through the eyepiece. They make a good picture, airbrushed and orderly. The camera is silent when I press the shutter-release and I check the brand, thinking that when we return home, we’ll need to make some changes.
In the hotel room, high above the city, Scott downloads his photos. He is touching them up, photoshopping. In one, a cat sleeps next to raw meat on a butcher’s bench. The cat is missing its tail. In another, Gabrielle and I are on the swing. We look shiny with sweat, and Scott starts trying to fix us.
Gabrielle lies on the bed, one arm slung over her head, asleep. I try to read. The air in the room is too cold. I get off my bed and move towards the large window overlooking the city. From up this high, everything is quiet and unrushed. Like staring through the eyepiece of a camera.
I hear her crying. I sit up in bed to wait, timing the cycle for one full minute, because that is what the baby books instruct. The minute ticks past, and still I wait. In the dark I look at the outline of my husband. He sleeps, soundly, his right shoulder rising with each breath. Outside the bedroom window a tree moves. Its shadow bends over the bed, touching my feet.
Eventually her crying stops, and I lie back down. I stare at the wall, the Florence Broadhurst wallpaper. I decide the walls need to be painted.
My husband brings me coffee. He leaves it beside me, on a small lacquered table I found in an antique store and had restored. I pick the cup up and slide a book under it. There are enough watermarks in this house.
I hear my husband moving around in the nursery. He tries to walk quietly, but still I hear him. I tense, waiting for the slightest noise, the cracking of floorboards, an accidental bump against furniture. I wait for the crying.
The paint swatches are spread on the floor. I stare at them each and wonder who comes up with their names: Buttercup. Butter. Cream. Maybe they should have names like Curdled Milk. Tears. Tantrums. These I can understand. I only want yellow, a certain kind of yellow, something that could make me feel happy.
“You don’t read? At all?” she stares at him. Behind her chair, lining two office walls, are bookshelves. The shelves are full, some of the neat rows topped with more books. A stack of journals balance on her desk. A pin-board, tacked to the wall behind her monitor, has literary quotations stuck to it.
“I don’t like books,” he says and doesn’t seem apologetic. In her hands is a copy of The Boat. She glances down at it, brushes a hand over the cover, then puts it aside on her desk. She folds her hands on her lap and looks up at him. He is tall, with hair that keeps sliding into his eyes. A black canvas bag is slung over one shoulder. His feet are shoulder-width apart, directed at her. She stands, to get on an even footing.
“The more you read, the better you write,” she says.
“I’ve heard that.” He slides a hand into his front pocket. The thumb sticks out. She keeps her eyes on his face. His eyes are blue.
“I thought you wanted to get better.”
“No, I said I wanted to get better grades.”
She moves to one of the bookshelves. She leans against it, looking for something. He watches, shifts his weight to one foot and pushes his other hand into his pocket. He looks at her legs. She is wearing a short skirt which skims the top of her thighs. Her legs look toned and he feels slightly aroused.
“Can I buy you a coffee?” he asks. She doesn’t turn around. She moves along the bookshelf, reaches down to the bottom shelf and pulls at the spine of a book. She doesn’t bend her knees demurely to do this. He watches.
“I don’t drink coffee,” she says. She turns around. In her hand is Lady Chatterley’s Lover. She holds it at arms length to him and he thinks how clichéd she is.
Ira McGuire is a Gold Coast-based writer and current PhD candidate (cue violins). You can find her on Twitter @ira_mcguire.