"Nobody moved. Then somebody moved. Then everybody moved."
This is a piece of flash fiction that I wrote because I was thinking about the trauma we don't see and how we can often be insulated from the terrible things that happen so nearby to us.
It was a summer day when everything changed. The scent of sweet fruit hovered in the air — and when she looked down at her hands, she realised she had dark red plum juice all over her fingers. He was quiet as she licked the juice off, and he looked down at his feet, shuffling them backwards and forwards. They sat cross-legged in the sun, listening to music, and eating from the fruit bowl in front of them every so often. Music played; Joni Mitchell sung, rich buttery tones swaying in the air.
The telly was on inside the house, blaring, but they didn’t pay attention to it. If they had, they would have the heard the news straight away. They would have known that the town was in trouble, that people were packing their bags and leaving. If they’d been listening, they would have heard about the man dressed all in black, his gun pressed to his belly. If they’d stopped reaching for stone fruit, they would have heard the calls to leave as soon as possible. But they heard nothing.
They ate red grapes and shared an overripe apricot and watched the sun beams dance across their bare legs. There was one lone cloud in the sky, and she tilted her head at it, said that it looked like a dog. He laughed breathily.
No, he said, not a dog – something much larger. A tiger, or a lion.
Lions and tigers look nothing alike, she said, and they argued back and forth lazily for a while.
He asked if she wanted to go swimming in the Murray and she contemplated the offer, thinking of the tea coloured water, the tiny swirls she could make with her fingers. She thought about putting on her yellow and brown bikini and frowned. She didn’t like her body – her hips, she thought, were too large.
No, not today. Let’s just sit.
The sun set, skidding across the sky. Down in the town, windows were smashed. People were screaming, voices crackling. There was blood on the road, police officers with prosaic faces, standing guard.
He yawned lazily.
Do you want fish and chips for tea?
Okay, she said
and they smiled at one another but didn’t move. There was all the time in the world, or so they thought. Time was endless – it was something that stretched out; it was like a long glittering road that had no end, no beginning. It just was.
The reporter on the news was stressed, cherry red staining his cheeks. The town’s sergeant coughed into a white handkerchief and advised people to remain calm. Her voice had an undercurrent of vagueness, ambiguity, running through it. The gunman was out of sight – the police were struggling to locate him. Shadows of people shook through the streets.
Do you want something to drink? she asked, stretching out an arm and repositioning herself.
We should get a hammock, he said.
I’m cold. Are you cold?
He took off his jacket, which was only a thin cotton one, and handed it to her. It was the colour of the sky.
Then there was a noise. Reverberating. It was low and dull, had a strange echo to it. He moved his head.
Did you hear that?
It was probably nothing.
What was nothing?
She moved her head as well.
I don’t know. Nothing.
Well, if it was nothing, how could I have heard it?
Yeah, it was probably nothing.
Someone was crying, an ugly sound that kept hitting the air. A police officer called out – stay back – words were harsh and heavy.
Nobody moved. Then somebody moved. Then everybody moved.
There was another noise. Later, she would say that she heard it, that it sounded like the ocean and the wind rolling together, like glass shattering, like something falling from the sky.
The news coverage stopped. The telly screen went blank. They didn’t even know they’d left it on.
Out on the street, someone said something to someone. The noises were fast, quick. She reached for a grape, placed it on her tongue. A currawong moved in the tree. Joni Mitchell sang about a river. The day was coming to an end, sunlight fading, scampering away like a cat in the bushes. She reached for another plum, tore it open and offered him half. Juice spilled out, staining their fingertips purple.
They ate sleepily.