The following I wrote in about three hours while in a cafe on holiday. I was bored and needed to vent some creativity. I'm pretty happy that after 2 double shot flat whites and a glass of water I got this.... and yes, I know it needs a thorough edit....
SMALL bare feet stormed through Van Gogh’s self-portrait. His eyes and nose were smudged. Liam fell back, blue chalk almost falling from his fingers stained with red and orange. His brown eyes chased across the pavers to catch the back of slender white legs marching away, almost in a run. A short teen in a yellow singlet fought a cold winter wind, the embroidered hem of her garment bouncing around the summit of her thighs, teasing Liam’s sinful imagination. Her waist-long red-dyed hair was in a thick and scruffy mess, flickering behind her like a tangled flag. As she approached the main steps that lead down to Bondi beach, she leapt past a group of pensioners slowly climbing up. Air caught the cloth like a parachute, lifting it high to expose her narrow, bare hips and pale, tiny waist. The pensioners glanced back, startled, as her folded arms unraveled to force the cloth back down. The girl leapt down the steps to the sand, disappearing from view below the edge of the promenade.
Strange, Liam thought, and turned back to his smudged chalk drawing. He came further than ever this time, but still wasn‘t close to being satisfied. He’d been working on this copy of Van Gogh’s ‘Self Portrait 1889’ since the start of the day, carefully trying to replicate every brush stroke and swirling line. It wasn’t happening. Even if the girl hadn’t stormed through it wouldn’t have been quite perfect. Now it was getting too late in the afternoon to repair the damage or try again. And beside, he thought, there weren’t enough people left on the promenade who were likely to spare their change. He would just start from scratch tomorrow and try it all again. With practiced care, Liam packed away his chalks into a small wooden box that was made from the cross-section of a hollowed out tree-branch, the lid decorated with the carved head of an elephant. The lid didn’t flip up, but slid around, turning on a pin in the side. It was a gift from Thailand.
Because of his jet black hair and dark-tanned skin, most people thought that Liam was Thai. Vietnamese. Indonesian. Maybe even from the Philippines. Strangers, curious about the young Asian artist copying a Dutch master in chalk, were always surprised that he was actually born in East Timor. They were even more surprised when he spoke to them in a clear Australian vernacular. He spent all of his school years in the Australian education system and secretly enjoyed the glimmer of surprise on the faces of strangers when he spoke. He wasn’t trying to be an Aussie by speaking right and fitting in. He simply was an Aussie, and he rarely ever felt otherwise. Only when people still didn’t see it and were compelled let him know.
At first it didn’t mean anything, but Liam thought about nothing else for the rest of the afternoon, replaying those images in his head over and over again while he ate greasy fish and chips on the grass above the beach. Small bare soles stained with blue chalk. Smooth white legs. Embroidered yellow hem. Long red-dyed hair. Narrow bare hips and tiny pale waist. There must be a story there, he figured. There always was a story. He’d seen too many strange things in his travels to think otherwise, and this was by no means the strangest. As day passed the baton to night, Liam kept watching the procession of churning white lines tumble towards land and then spreading on the beach like a tired traveller on a giant hotel bed. A few random walkers in thick winter coats went drifting by, some holding hands and others with hands in pockets. A group of die-hard surfers bobbed quietly in the inky swell. Small bare soles stained with blue chalk. Narrow bare hips and tiny pale waist. He wondered where she went. Where she must be now. What she might be doing, and who with. He figured that may be why she had managed to infect his thoughts; that glimpse of flesh had triggered his desires. He hadn’t kissed anyone for a very long time, let alone felt the sensual beauty of tenderly touching a girl’s bare skin. For Liam that had always been one of the great simple pleasures of human existence.
Beyond the South end of the beach, where diners laughed behind a wall of glass in the Bondi Icebergs clubhouse, a footpath wound along the edge of the rocks to a lookout before turning the corner and then diving back down to follow the coastal cliffs towards Coogee. Just below the lookout, to the left side of the stairs leading up, a low wall lining the path stopped walkers from straying too close to the cliff’s edge. Liam climbed over, following the ledge under a small, narrow overhang. Hunched awkwardly, he shuffled around the curve of the rock beneath the lookout, right to the very end, and then pulled out his sleeping bag from a hollow.
He sat on the folded bag, huddled in his green German army coat to hide from the heavy wind, listening to the colossal waves far below exploding against the cliff over and over again; just like they had been for hundreds of centuries before Liam had lived, and just like they would be for hundreds of centuries after. To his left he could see the distant sparkle of lights across the bay, of houses and blocks of apartments. But the beach itself, and Campbell parade, were just around the corner and out of mind. Endless clouds buried the vastness of space and smothered the white sickle of a new moon. Ahead, a dark black void had swallowed up the entire Tasman sea and everything that lay beyond. Liam was sitting on the very edge existence.
Liam slipped a cheap LED headlamp around his temple, and then turned it on while pulling a laminated postcard from the inside pocket of his coat. The lamination was scratched and worn, but the colours of Van Gogh’s 1889 self-portrait beneath were still vivid. Holding the picture close he studied it carefully, wondering where he was going wrong. He got the colours right some time ago, and bought all his chalks accordingly, but the mad tapestry of brush strokes were difficult to see on the tiny replication. He flipped the card over. Stuck on the back, under the lamination, was a small newspaper clipping. Three dead in horror crash, read the headline. There was no photograph. Just three short paragraphs. He flipped the card back over. He knew the words by heart.
The air grew colder and Liam could smell the rain before it fell. He could feel the cool wet air whipping at his face and the rising damp in his lungs. He tucked away the postcard and pulled off the headlamp, replacing it with his knitted blue beanie. A light drizzle quickly became a thunderous downpour that drowned out the sounds of the sea. Liam spun about, retreating away from the edge, and lay down his sleeping bag in a tight round cavern that tunnelled into the cliff about a meter and a half. He crawled in to hide from the intruding wind and rain, turning around and lying on his back in the coffin-like tunnel, legs dangling out the end. His eyes closed as Liam listened to the water cascading over the edge of the lookout above and spattering against the rocks.
Small bare soles stained with blue chalk. Smooth white legs. Embroidered yellow hem. Long red-dyed hair. Narrow bare hips and tiny pale waist. On my God, that tiny pale waist! He could feel it under his hands. Smooth and warm. Delicate to the touch.
Liam woke to dripping water and crashing waves. He slid out, landing on his knees, and turned...
They both scared each other near death.
Just around the corner from his coffin, the red-haired girl huddled in a ball with her back pressed against the sandstone. She was drenched and trembling. There was enough ambient light floating across the bay to highlight her face and legs. Bruises stained the front of her shins and the length of her arms. Her lips were slightly open, teeth chattering. The wrinkled cotton stuck to her body, translucent against her skin, with the embroidered hem crumpled around her waist. One foot was rubbing the top of the other. She turned and stared at Liam, light sliding away from her face. All she could see of Liam was a dark figure hidden by the shadows deeper in the cavern.
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