Chapter 43 from And Lower
Gordon and Anahera go out to watch the sunset. As soon as the door clicks after them, Cynthia rushes to change the table into a bed and get in it. She claims it with all her limbs: there’ll be no space for him.
Soon, Anahera comes back in, and appears shocked at seeing her so aggressively star-fished.
‘Oh!’ Cynthia says. ‘There’s room for you.’
She shuffles over quickly, but Anahera says, ‘It’s only eight?’
‘That’s fine,’ Cynthia says, shifting her arm and leg back, lest he attempt to slip in.
He strolls through the door, and stands beside Anahera, looking down and yawning. ‘Gosh,’ he says. Then, ‘Do you want to play cards?’ he asks Anahera.
She looks again at the bed, there’s no table now.
‘Oh,’ he says. ‘Want to go for a paddle about?’
Anahera nods, and goes out. He follows her. Cynthia lies, waiting. If she goes to pee, even with him in the dinghy, even as quickly as she can, he’ll attempt to claim it. He knows how much it means now. She lies there for at least an hour, then sleeps.
Her hand touches a leg, rough and hairy: his. It moves.
‘Gordon!’ she hisses.
‘Yes. Oh, yes – she said, she will take a turn in the cabin.’
He repeats himself, Anahera’s sleeping in the cabin.
Cynthia logs into Facebook. There’s no chance of sleep now.
‘Are you scrolling through a wall?’ he asks, immediately.
She’s turned away from him, blocking the screen with her body. He’ll only see the light. She moves down the page silently, and thinks she can feel his eyes blinking in their slow, dumb way.
‘You all just post pictures of things,’ he says. His lips are as wet as a baby’s, she can hear it in his voice when they separate. ‘Things you think are pretty.’ His mouth is a pond of spit.
Cynthia raises her eyebrows in the dark, and likes someone’s link to an article about sugar taxes. If she leaned over with a knife, right now, and stabbed his throat, would he gurgle? She scrolls. He would.
‘Are you afraid of drowning?’ he asks. ‘Or have you already drowned in your social media device?’ The blankets shift down low, near his muscled toes. He’s wriggling them.
She could conk him on the head with something. ‘How would I drown in my phone, Gordon?’
Anahera shouts at them from the cabin. ‘Little bit quieter, guys.’
‘Right-o!’ he yells back. Then he whispers to Cynthia, ‘Ah, I mean, metaphorically. In The Feed. Are you hungry, Cynthia, or are you Fed?’
She hears his age. When they first met and he seemed wild, he seemed young too. As young as Anahera. That was a long time ago now. He’s acquired a decade from nowhere, and he’s weak.
He very diligently ignores her lack of response. ‘You don’t believe in reality,’ he whispers. ‘You believe in Reality TV.’
He’s naïve. Cynthia remembers when he dressed in a suit for their Boat Island Tour; he combed his hair. She likes a picture of a three-legged dog.
‘If I threw you over,’ his whisper is even quieter now, ‘would you be afraid you might drown? No? Because you can swim?’
‘I can swim,’ Cynthia turns and hisses back at him. ‘It’s just fucking boring.’ Her face is much too near to his. She can feel him breathing.
He clears his throat: a deep, reverberating noise, like a rock falling in a cave. ‘Because you think Anahera, that nice strong girl, would save you? You think you know she’d save you?’ She can feel him grinning now. His lips are stretched. ‘Think of Anahera – she is a lion. She would murder a goat with her mouth and eat it. And she knows how to speak nicely to people.’
‘Guys,’ Anahera says from the cabin. ‘Quit muttering.’
Cynthia closes her eyes. Not to sleep, she won’t surrender, but to rest. He must be a farmer in Germany, she thinks. Shit, mud, and blood run right through him. He’s got the waiting intelligence of a dog, and the muscled tongue of a bull. And here, he has found himself so at home in New Zealand, our dirty country of animals.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Annaleese Jochems has had work published in Pantograph Punch, Poetry NZ, and Ika Journal. The piece included is an excerpt from And Lower, a novel she wrote for her MA at the IIML in 2016 and winner of this year’s Adam Foundation Prize in Creative Writing. She has a degree in Creative Writing from MIT.