That woman who does the colours, the one that wrapped us all in those tatty scarves for hours on end, she told me I was a winter. Apparently, that means I should wear nothing but black and white and some other daft colour—pale blue, I think it was. Harsh shades, black and white, I always thought. Night club colours. Waitress colours. Actor colours. Not really colours at all, if you think about it, more like old sheets, something you’d use to cover your furniture when you’re doing a bit of painting around the house. A bit masculine, actually. Not like a nice bright red or an emerald green. Everyone else was very taken with the whole thing, clutching their colour swatches to them like prayer books, rushing off to the dress shop to buy a whole new wardrobe.
In my day, seasons were to do with changes in the weather, not your pasty face or your olive tinges. You got a new coat every Easter and you only wore white shoes in the summer, and even then, you made sure they were always immaculate. Everything had to be immaculate. The hem of your slip, the fingertips of your gloves, the heels of your shoes, the rim of your collar. It showed what kind of family you came from, you see. No-one seems to care about that anymore.
Well, whatever my season, I’m sticking to navy. I’ve always been more of a navy person. You can’t go wrong with navy blue. It always looks smart and it goes with everything. It’s just as formal as black, you know.
By the way, this skirt may look like it goes with this top, but it’s not a set.
I bought them separately.
More bread, more milk, more tea, possibly. Sherry? Biscuits. Bread, biscuits, butter … Brownies. Helena to Brownies by four. Or is it Ballet? Tuesdays, Brownies. Thursdays, Ballet.
Today’s Thursday. Bread, biscuits, butter, Ballet.
Blow Ballet. She can miss it this once. It won’t …
I was sure we had more bread in the freezer. They’ll be wanting sandwiches. Sherry?
The good ones are Pearls, which are quite rare, especially the aqua ones, and Snowflakes, which are see-though like Cats-eyes but shiny, and Crystals, which aren’t shiny. They’re clear, except for bits of colour. Bits of colour on the outside. Dolphins and Turtle Shells are quite good too, but no-one wants Dummies or Cats-Eyes.
Bonkers are one size up. I’ve got a green Pearl Bonker, and a Candy. Jacks are twice as big as a Bonker, and then there are Emperors, really big ones. I’d measure the Emperor, but I can’t find my ruler.
Peewees are smaller, but a Blood isn’t a peewee. It’s dark red, like stained glass, not black like the Vampires. Or painted like a Red Devil.
Then there are the Clearys, which are clear, and the Steelies, which are steel, and the Frosties, which are frosted, and the Oilies, which are shiny and oily and yucky. Worms are metallic but covered in worms, and Claws are clear, except for the strings. They look like claws, I think, but some people think the strings look stringy, and call them Spaghetti.
Cokes are light-brown and Tidal Waves are browny-greeny-blue, not as blue as the Deep Blue Seas, though. Blue Moons are dark but see-through. Mystics are never blue, just misty. Galaxies can be black or oily, and their speckles kind of look like stars. The Universe has every colour. Some people call the Universe a Dinosaur’s Egg.
You can take them to school, but you have to be careful when you’re trading. Someone might pick out one of your Pearls, and that’s worth at least four Candies. In games, Dolphins can play a Crystal or a Turtle Shell, but not a Pearl. If I was playing with a Pearl, they’d have to play a Steely or a Blood.
Sometimes there are fights. People can get pretty upset when they lose marbles.
I’ve got about thirty five in all right now, but Mum says I can’t bring them to the funeral.
You approach the blocks slowly, flexing your fingers, pointing your toes, like a gymnast preparing to leap. You wait for the others to bend first. You take your time.
This is your race.
The late sun glints off the track, still baking the long day golden-dry. You shake your feet, loosening them up, and back into the blocks gingerly, like an expensive car. Curling into position, flicking each foot into place, you splay your fingers along the line.
The wind smells of sweat. You ignore glimpses of shoulders, glistening scalps. The noise of the crowd is a dull thudding in the back of your head. You listen to the even swell of your breath, drawing it up into the recesses of your head—empty, now, of everything but long white lines and the horizon.
You wait, poised to spring at the first hint of the gun. Neck arched, squinting towards the fixed spot of the finish, you hear the crack. It meets the air, lifts you from the blocks, unfolds your body. It propels you forward, launching you along your narrow tunnel of track.
The sound of the gun, fired again, is a cold slap at your heels.
You pull up short, hopping. Reeling around, you face a shaking head, several taut backs. The other runners are a rippling wave—scowling, tense, interrupted, angry.
You approach the blocks slowly.
I’d never had any problems in that area before. Really.
I still don’t understand how one day you can wake up, roll over, climb on top and prepare to launch the troops as usual, if you know what I mean, and have them—well, have them break ranks a bit too soon.
If it had been a one-off, then I wouldn’t mind so much. I could say I was tired, or that I’d been working too hard recently. Stressed out, you know. Drank a bit too much the night before. Not concentrating properly.
But it kept happening. It was like being a lad again, except this time I wasn’t getting better with practice.
The wife was no help. It’s your age, she said. Get yourself to the doctor if you’re so worried about it, she said. Doesn’t bother me, she said.
Funnily enough, if I did go to the doctor, which I’m not going to, I could tell him exactly when it started. The beginning of the end, as they say.
It was the day we heard that Linford Christie had got himself thrown out of the Olympics. Sunday, the twenty-eighth of July, 1996. Even in my state, I could feel sorry for him, poor bastard. He was the headline news – day of shame and all.
Turned out to be our worst performance since 1952.
He senses that this may be the moment.
They’ve been back from the pub for what feels like hours. At first there was a crowd of them, but everyone else seems to have paired up and disappeared. He can hear Martin and what’s-her-name, the tarty one, laughing in the kitchen. They’re supposed to be heating up what’s left of the ratatouille.
He hopes they don’t come back.
The girl sitting next to him is called Julie. She’s not as bold as the others. Quiet and gentle, more his type.
The only light in the shabby living room is the flickering television. It illuminates their feet resting on the squat coffee table, an open magazine, two empty mugs pocked with dribbles of brown, her narrow pale face.
He wonders what she looks like in daylight.
She seems so self-contained, he thinks. Compact and sweet. All that pretty fair hair drifting around her face, curling onto her cheek.
He marks time with his feet.
She’s sitting right next to him, but seems a long way away, watching the television with a placid concentration. He notices that she occasionally chews the dark pink underside of her lower lip. The sight of it makes his legs throb.
His hand finds the back of his neck. An idle scratch. A pause, stalling for time. Then a casual stretch across the back of the sofa.
He slides his arm down the bumpy, brown velvet slope and holds his breath.
Her shoulder is more steep than he’d imagined. His wrist brushes the dent of her bra strap and lolls between the soft mounds of skin rising on either side. His hand flaps a little before dropping. There doesn’t seem to be a natural resting place. It hangs off the cliff of her shoulder like a boulder waiting to tumble.
She twists her torso away, ducking out of his loose embrace without taking her eyes off the screen.
“Not now,” she says. “It’s the hundred metres.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Paula Morris was born in Auckland in 1965. Her stories have been published in JAAM, Hayden’s Ferry Review and Huia Short Stories 4. She is currently a student on Victoria’s MA programme in Creative Writing, for which she is writing a novel called Queen of Beauty.