A sequel to the chapter “Leaving The Circle’.

The following events occurred when I was 18.

I am not ashamed.

I am not alone.



There are so many of us.


Plunging into darkness with only headlights for reference, I warm to talking. The bloke seems interested and offers good advice.

‘Wait till you get to second year before giving up,’ he says, turning down the radio. ‘And by then you’ll have more of an idea where your course is headed, n have some results. That’s what I did. Had doubts, I mean, about what I really wanted. Over the summer holidays I had time to think about it. I could see it from different aspects, you know, having done accounting and business subjects? I began to feel I was on the right track. And having certainty helps you through hard times.’
I nod my agreement.

We drive steadily, the heater thawing my limbs and the coloured lights on the dashboard seem cheerful and festive.
He seems to understand where I’m coming from. ‘Still, I should’ve enrolled in fine arts, not industrial.’
‘What made you choose it in the first place?’
‘I panicked. My first offer was architecture at Melbourne. There was some error. And I didn’t have much of a folio for fine arts, so that wasn’t really an option. Industrial was the only other choice.’
‘Melbourne. That’s a pretty decent offer.’
‘Perhaps. But not for me, not architecture.’

The car slows. We turn off the main road onto a single lane stretch.
I feel I should explain. ‘You see, I’ve been brought up to believe that tertiary study is a step towards a career, and unless you’re a screamingly talented artist, you won’t earn you a living.  Painting and stuff?  Doesn’t pay bills.’
‘There’s truth in that. Do you have artistic talent?’
‘I believe so. But my mum compares me to professionals she knows, and what she’s seen in galleries. She doesn’t think I’m good enough. Pretty crushing to be told that by your mum: dismissing natural ability in something you love, let alone by a professional artist.’
‘Must’ve been.’ He lights his cigarette from a glowing ring.

We drive in silence for a while. There are pockets of fog now and the headlights create eeriness along the road. He slows a little. Good. He’s being careful. Sensible. But then he slows even more, and turns from the bitumen onto a gravel road. I peer at him, puzzled.
‘Just taking the back way so we avoid the traffic lights.’
He takes my silence for doubt. ‘Yeah. Comes out on the highway. So, what are you going to do about school?’ he continues.
‘I’m not sure. My heart isn’t in it, that’s all. I don’t enjoy it anymore.’
‘You could pick up some fine arts subjects in second semester.’
‘Yeah. But my folio’s still pretty small.’
‘At least you should try,’ he urges.

We continue in silence. I have no idea where we are. This region is new territory and I still have no sense of direction. The mist thickens, leaving water droplets on the windscreen and he starts the wipers. Pockets of fog hover at the same level as the hood of the car, rising over us as we pass, slipping over the vehicle. I watch in the rear-vision mirror at wash churned red by the tail lights. It looks cold outside.

Where the road rises, clear of fog, he pulls over, off the road, and switches off the lights. There’s nothing out here, no farmhouses, not even the glow of outer suburbs. We seem miles from anywhere.
‘What’s wrong?’ I ask, feeling a little uneasy. ‘Don’t tell me you’re nearly out of petrol.’ I’m not really joking.
He turns off the engine and there’s an uneasy silence before he answers.
‘You know how it is.’ He tilts his head and looks across at me.
‘What d’you mean?’
‘Well. Here we are,’ he explains. ‘Me, giving you a ride home. And it’s not that late. So why not enjoy some time together?’
‘But you said you would take me home,’ I bluster. ‘Like, straight home.’
‘Yeah,’ he agrees, ‘but I thought you might like to talk some more.’

I lean against the door, its glass cold against my head, studying his face in the dimness. He seems a decent bloke, well dressed and certainly from a good family. So why do the open paddocks feel so cold and dark? The first tremor of fear draws across me and I take deliberate, deep breaths. ‘I think we’d better get going.’ And I deepen my voice: ‘Just drop me off at home.’
‘I will,’ he assures me. ‘After a little chat. No harm in that, is there? I mean … what’s the rush?’

Fear creeps up my legs like a chill. ‘Like I said, I’m tired. And, let’s face it: I don’t know you very well. This ride isn’t a date or anything. I’m not trying to pick you up. There were plenty of girls back there, keen to go out with you every night of the week. So just start the engine and drive me home?’
He sits watching me, head resting on his hand, his elbow on the steering wheel.
‘Please,’ I add, belatedly.
‘But, like you said, Jo. You hardly know me, and here’s a perfect opportunity to get to know me better. Let’s just talk a bit.’
‘I’m tired. I would like to go home now.’
‘Okay,’ he surrenders. ‘In a little while. First, let’s talk.’

A trap is closing and he has control. The sickening feeling arrives at my stomach. Okay. I decide. I’ll play his game for a little while; then he will take me home as agreed. I curse my friends for letting me down. Or was this was their suggestion?

‘Very well,’ I sigh. ‘What would you like to talk about?’ I’m trying to sound pleasant and interested.
He warms to this and relaxes. I can see him better now my eyes have adjusted to the darkness, and he’s smiling. ‘How about telling me what you do after classes, after school?’ he suggests.
I play it straight. ‘Study, artwork, assignments. The sort of things you’d expect. Reading, playing my guitar, singing songs. House-keeping, walking to the shops, sometimes to the beach.’
‘No social life, eh?’
‘I’m the quiet type.’
He nods slowly. ‘And shy, perhaps?’
‘I’m no extrovert. Depends where I am. Tonight I enjoyed myself in the company of my friends.’
‘No boyfriend, though?’
‘No. Not just now.’
‘So you’ve had a boyfriend before?’
‘Sort of.’

My skin is creeping. I remember a similar line of enquiry years earlier, when I was way too young, and I begin to guess where this is heading – the intimacy of his questions.
‘Well,’ he offers. ‘I don’t have a girlfriend either. Perhaps you should consider me more seriously?’

It’s a bad time for words to fail me, yet I know this must be countered, and fast. Any hint of consideration would be careless. I offer half a smile. ‘I’m not interested in you that way. I don’t just pick up guys and go out with them. I prefer to get to know people: where they live and work, over time. Then decide.’ There’s no apology in my voice and I maintain a steady gaze.
‘Hmm.’ His smiles meets my eyes. He stretches, opens the window beside him, and reaches for a smoke. Obviously we are not going anywhere soon.

I sigh and reach for my own pack and open my window, too. He stretches his legs to get more comfortable and opens the ashtray for me, flicking his own ash over his shoulder, outside. We sit in silence. He must realise the situation is difficult. I feel him studying me, looking for a chink in my defence.  My anger grows beneath his scrutiny.

Dank night air drifts in and I pull my jacket around me. We are parked at the side of a country road at one thirty in the morning, with no houses in sight and little likelihood of traffic. My options are not good. I stub the cigarette out and breathe deeply to steady myself.

‘Please take me straight home now, as you agreed to at the surf club.’
‘Oh, I said nothing about taking you straight home, Jo.’ His voice has a taunting tone. He knows I’m afraid.
‘Well that’s not how I understood it. And I have no intention of continuing this charade with you. It is my wish to go home, not sit in your car out in the middle of nowhere, just … talking.’
‘Oh. There are other things we can do besides talking.’
He’s quick.
‘Not with me. Not tonight,’ I snap. ‘Not any night.’ I’m panicking, now. ‘Not ever!’ I glare at him, sick of his game and angry at his trap.
‘Well, if that’s the way you feel,’ he mocks, ‘perhaps you’d like to consider walking home instead?
‘And perhaps you will be considerate enough to drive me home.’
‘Not likely just now.’
‘How do you expect me to walk home in the dark and cold. I don’t even know where I am?’
‘My point exactly,’ he agrees. ‘Hey. Don’t worry. I’ll take you home like I said, after I get to know you better.’
‘You’re wasting your time. I know what you’re thinking, and you can forget it!’
‘That’s little gratitude for a lift?’
‘Fine. I’ll pay you then!’ I seize the opportunity and reach for my wallet.
‘Wrong currency,’ he counters
‘I don’t want your money, Jo. I want to get to know you better.’
‘Well, that’s not going to happen. It’s obvious you’re a sleaze and very definitely not my type.’
‘Well, like I said, if that’s how you feel, take a walk.’ He scoffs, laughing at my helplessness.
I remain where I am, terrified of being lost out there, alone. Anything could happen at this time of night.

We sit in silence, our iciness palpable until, mercifully, he reaches forward and turns up the radio.
‘Look, Jo,’ he begins. ‘It’s obvious I like you and I don’t think you’re giving me a chance here.’
‘A chance for what?’
‘To be friends. You know?’ His voice becomes warmer. ‘You’ve misunderstood me.’
‘Yes, really.’ He deliberately softens the word. ‘I like you. I really care about you.’ He leans over to reaching for my shoulder, but I recoil.
‘Hey. I’m not going to hurt you. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want. Just give me a chance, that’s all.’
‘You’ve had your chance,’ I hiss at him. ‘That was it! I’m not as stupid as you think. You want to a screw in return for a lift home. Well that’s not going to happen!’

‘No. Not screw, Jo. There’s no respect in that. I’m not that kind of guy. I care about you. I know you’re shy. Hey, ask anyone at school: I’m a nice guy, not a sleaze. I don’t go around just picking up girls. I’ve had my eye on you for a while, see? Every lunchtime at the Caf. I like what I see and I want you to know that…to feel it.’ And he squeezes my shoulder for reassurance. ‘You must know how it to like to like someone who doesn’t even notice you?’

In truth, I do. That guy from my graphics class. And while it would be nice to have someone who thinks I’m special, earlier misfortune has made me wary of intimacy.  This guy is creepy, threatening me on a deserted country road.

It is as if he’s read my thoughts. ‘Hey, I’m not really going to leave you out here to walk home. I’m not like that. I was just kidding.’ My silence encourages him. ‘Understand my position. Come on, let’s be friends, not enemies, okay?’

His arm tightens on my shoulder, and he pulls me across the bench seat. I resist, but he moves closer, and rubs my arm. I say nothing, tolerating the advance while I figure a way out. But, he reads the pause well and changes tack. ‘Listen, I don’t want to take you home while you’re feeling upset like this.’ His arm is round me now and he leans forward and kisses my cheek before settling back to watch.

I’m confused now. I’ve never imagined myself in this situation and all I can think about is the safety of the bungalow. But then, perhaps I’ve misjudged him. Maybe he does like me. And it’s true about the Caf. I’ve seen him there. Maybe he’s as nervous and me, and I’m misreading him. What if he’s genuine? But, before I can counter this thought his lips brush my forehead, a hand caresses my cheek and he pulls me closer. I turn my back and lie against him, resting my head on his shoulder. I feel more control this way.

We remain quiet for some time, watching the car windows misting. He opens his window again and we sit and smoke. Music drifts from the radio, lulling and calming. It’s a local station playing requests for late night listeners. He turns up the next song. It’s one of my favourites, too: Unchained Melody. Humming it makes me feel braver.

He senses me soften, brushes my ear with his lips, then turns my face to study it better. As I pull away he grips my jaw and kisses me again, more forcefully, and draws back to watch my reaction again, with a warm smile.
‘You’re some special girl, Jo.’
My face warms to this. Compliments are a rarity. Maintaining distance from people has its drawbacks, too.
He kisses me again, forcing my lips apart with his tongue, then draws back again, so as not to rush me. I can feel myself being played with, like Pirate, our farm cat, used to play with mice.

I sit up slowly. ‘The steering wheel’s digging into me.’
‘Here,’ he offers. ‘Let’s lie the other way, on your side of the car.’ He’s already reaching into the back seat, and produces a blanket. ‘You can use this as a pillow.’
I remind him. ‘You’re taking me home, remember. Soon.’

I lie back against the blanket and he settles on my shoulder.
‘Mmm.’ I stifle a wide yawn.
‘Now, where was I?’ he asks rhetorically.

He moves a little, resting one elbow on the back of the seat, following the contours of my face with the back of his finger. Then his hand slides down my neck and he kisses me again, biting my lip gently. With his weight I feel my body slip down into the seat. As I try to sit up, he kisses me again, and I respond, only to buy time. His advances are calculated, gentle and unhurried. I remember what happened once before. I am on my guard.

He murmurs throaty reassurances but the touch of his skin unravels my concerns. A warm hand slips into my blouse, two fingers between the buttons. I tense, and grab his wrist, trying to pull his hand away, but he is stronger.  He prises a third button open and eases the fabric aside, the hand rounds my breast and eager fingers caress.

His kisses become more insistent and I am pinned against the door. His face is rough, grazing my skin. Another button slips and he drags my blouse off one shoulder, cupping my breast in his hand.
‘A man could die for one of these,’ he whispers thickly. His lips replace his hand, now resting on the car seat between my thighs.
He leans away and peels off his shirt. ‘It’s getting warm in here,’ he explains. ‘And skin on skin feels so nice, doesn’t it?’ He pulls my shirt away and settles back against me, forcing one resisting knee down,  his free hand moving between my thighs as he kisses my neck.


Five more minutes, I reassure myself, my hand resting on his chest.
‘That feels good,’ he murmurs.
How many girls has he had in this car on back roads before? I wonder.

He grabs the button on my jeans and I tense, trying to pull away, but his bulk prevents me from sitting up. This is too far.
‘We’re not going there,’ I declare, reaching to refasten the button. My hand brushes something firm. I realise his jeans are undone – something warm and firm.
‘I’m just going to do the same inside your jeans as I was on the outside. It’ll feel better for you.’
‘You’ve opened your jeans!’
‘Well, do you blame me? They’re getting pretty tight.’

This has gone way too far. Surely I’ve earned my ride home. Suddenly he lunges forward, pressing me back against the door, the dead weight of his torso on me, both hands rubbing my thighs. I grab his wrist in an attempt to free myself, but he resists.
‘Come on, beautiful. Enjoy this. I’m doing it for you.’ He gags me with his mouth while his body pins me down. Opening my jeans, he drags them down over my hips, one side at a time, with my arms pinned by his weight.
‘Aah,’ he sighs. ‘This is good. You’ll like this, baby’
‘You’ve gone far enough,’ I snarl.
‘You’re not enjoying this?’
‘Please stop. I don’t want this!’
‘But, what about what I want? You’ve teased me. There has to be some satisfaction.’
‘Well, sorry to disappoint you but this wasn’t my idea. I don’t want this.’

He sits back on his heels. ‘Ok,’ both hands raised in mock surrender. ‘Here. I’ve stopped. But, how about you jerk me off, seeing we’ve got this far?’
I watch in horror as he pulls off his jocks and lies back on the seat.
‘I don’t do that sort of thing,’ I reply.
‘Well, you can learn, baby. Here.’ He grabs at my hand but I snatch it back.
‘Oh, come on, now. This isn’t fair and you know it.’
‘No, it’s not. You offered me a ride home, remember!’
‘Hey. When the girls told me their friend needed a ride home, imagine how thrilled I was to see it was you. A chance to be with a girl I like…and respect,’ he adds.

I snort at the blatant lie.

With his weight off me I sit up and re-fasten my bra.
‘Jo…’ his voice smooth as liqueur. ‘Baby, listen. At least let me hold you a little more, so I have something to remember… seeing you don’t want me.’
I can’t believe that my own guilt prickles me.
‘Just before we go,’ he begs. ‘Let me hold you one last time?’ He pulls up his jeans and fastens them as a gesture of trustworthiness and I button up my shirt.
‘All right,’ I reply, quietly.

Sidling over, he kisses my forehead. ‘Thank you, baby.’ And he rests against me.

I place my arm around him, relieved to be safe… but, before I finish the thought his mouth engulfs my lips, and he caresses me hard. I shrug him off, careful to keep control, but he lunges again, unrolling the full weight of his body over me. His kisses hurt now, stubble grazing painfully.

Raising his hips, he shrugs down his jeans. I grab mine so he can’t open it. But he prises my hands away, opens and pulls them down. He’s way too strong, violent now, as he flattens me on the seat with the full weight of his body, dragging my jeans off with his feet. I fight, trying to slide out, to turn over, to buck him off, but he holds me there, pinning my shoulders with his elbow while a hand work frantically below. I feel fingers against my thigh as I struggle, turning my head to breathe.

Each attempt to slip from beneath him is countered with brute force. He shifts his weight, pinning me between his body and the back of the seat. Finding what he seeks, he opens me up with his finger.
‘No! This isn’t right. You can’t do this.’ I buck, clamping my thighs together, trying to wriggle free. But he rolls back again, pins me down, and slides his fingers into me. I tilt my pelvis away to be free of them. He adjusts his weight, wedging my legs apart with one of his own, then prizes them open.
‘Stop it,’ I croak, muffled beneath his shoulder. I wriggle my head free. ‘Stop it. I don’t want that!’
‘Yes you do, baby. You really need this. And I’m going to give you what you need.’
‘No!’ I claw at him, trying to push him off, twisting my hips and legs. The slick of sweat makes escape easier, but his strength is greater and I’m bruised and weakening, gasping for a breath.

He rises now, my shoulders pinned by his forearms.  He eases himself into me. It stings, burns like I’m being cut. I cry out struggling again but he has me pinned, and moves on me. I cry softly, totally over-whelmed.
‘Come on, baby, relax a little. You’ll enjoy it if you do.’
I respond with struggles.
‘Fight all you like,’ he taunts, ‘cos I like it rough!’

He lunges again, hard, watching my face as he works. Finally he groans, freezes in me, and I feel throbbing. I kick against the door and he loses balance.
‘Get off me, you bastard!’ I snarl, as my shoulders slip free. I grab at the seat, pushing him off with my feet as I untangle my clothes and get free. He doesn’t fight anymore. He got what he wanted.

I reach for my jeans and haul them back up. My groin is throbbing. My whole body feels bruised and grazed.
I button my blouse and reach for my coat.
He’s slumped against the driver’s door, still panting from his exertions. ‘You’ll thank me for this,’ he manages. ‘Now it’ll be easier for you.’
‘You’re not the first, you filthy, dumb bastard! I was molested as a kid!’

He starts: ‘I’m sorry…’ his demeanour changing instantly. ‘…I didn’t know.’
‘Of course you didn’t fucking know! You didn’t fucking bother to get to know me, remember? You just wanted your fare.’
Dressed now, I fasten my seatbelt. ‘Well, you’ve got what you wanted, so bloody well drive me home!’
I open the window to clear the fug.
‘Yeah,’ he agrees, huskily.

Dressed, he starts the engine. Headlights hit fog, dense, reflecting like a movie screen, the brilliance reassuring. We drive in silence. I’m numb now, past caring about anything other than home. With his eyes fixed on the road, he reaches for the radio and turns it down as if it might bother me. We approach the city, its orange street lights welcoming. Intersections are deserted and fog blankets the sound of the car.


Our car approaches the intersection of my street.
‘I’ll walk from here.’ My voice is tired and flat.
The driver doesn’t comment, pulling up to the curb. ‘See ya,’ he offers.
I slide out of my seat and turn stiffly, silent, and close the door with my knee. As I set out along the path, the sedan burbles in a cloud of exhaust. God! I think, don’t tell me he’s going to see me home! But, the vehicle grunts, turns and speeds away. I can hear it for more than half a dozen blocks.

Dawn chills. I shiver beneath a cotton blouse, my long hair lank and dishevelled. A cigarette lighter taps against keys and wallet in my coat pocket. I’ve longed for this place, for anywhere safe and familiar.  Now I’m here, a wave of anger rises, stilling the chatter of my jaw. I skirt the house, leafy hydrangeas leading to a trellised fence and gate. Beyond lies my home, the squat bungalow on the far side of the yard. My boots crunch over gravel as I cross to the porch.

Once inside I wash, scrub myself till my skin smarts. I reek of cigarette smoke and the pungent sweetness of sweat and unwanted sex. I discard my clothes on the laundry floor and stride into the shower, turning on both taps. My body arches under the icy torrent until warmth floods over me. With a bar of Solvol from the laundry sink, I begin loosening the ache and filth of the night.


I don’t want vengeance, I decide, towelling myself dry. Nor sympathy . And there’s no time for self-pity or rest.  It can’t stop here. This is just the beginning, the hard edge of life, the blade of reality. My youth lies crumpled on the floor of a man’s car.

* * *

Dressed warmly, I make coffee and sit across the only kitchen chair, resting my back against the wall. I prod the empty cigarette pack with the edge of my lighter. Sipping from my mug, I plan preliminaries. There is a calm inner voice declaring the order of tasks.
First, find his phone number.
Then, call and make demands.

I weave the lighter deftly, end over end through my fingers.

And then reclaim myself.

There’s a flake of ash on my jumper sleeve: white smut on black wool. I stand, draining my mug in one final gulp, and peer over its rim, out into the dull yard beyond the window. A gloomy morning replaces yesterday’s autumn, where my washing tossed like cheerful flags. I sigh and reach for my coat. As I slide into its blackness, the sleek lining is cold against my neck and arms. I grab my keys, lighter and wallet in one handful, slipping them into a pocket, but pause again, and sit, folding into the silence of myself: the contemplative warrior before battle. I have never dreamed of confronting an assailant and I need more time to consider the consequences.

* * *

It is after midday when I return home, slipping my coat onto the back of the kitchen chair. I stride into the lounge room and stop, undecided, regarding the single, shabby armchair. Weariness pulls like gravity and I fight the urge to scrub myself again. But I slump into the grimy seat and ease off my boots. The last few hours seem appalling, yet my integrity is here now, restored. This time I’ve made the choice, and my homecoming is triumphant, unlike the earlier skulk of defeat. I exhale a fist of anger from my chest and feel numbness drain away, leaving an aching residue of betrayal.
They said I could trust him.
He guaranteed my safety.
Bastards! All of them!


An involuntary stretch sets bruises smarting where he’s gripped and pinned my flesh. As the aches ease, I return to my thoughts, grateful to be alone with them. I have journeyed far into unchartered waters. In utter disbelief,  I roll my head from side to side. This paradox: the clash of vice and virtue in one single day, spontaneous and brash. Arbitrary? Yes, but executed as if inscribed on my life like a script.
But what if it hadn’t worked?
I brush the rhetoric aside. It had!
Tired eyes close.

My thoughts drift on the ocean of possibilities, each event bobbing like flotsam at low tide. Time becomes soluble and questions linger.
I bet I’m not the first one!
My jaw tightens.
Silence laps again.
I’ll deal with it.
And one day, I promise myself, one day this will be as vague as a dream.
Anyway, now he’s the victim.
I’ve turned a rapist into a victim!
A brief smile tugs the corners of my mouth and I wonder, again, if I really know myself anymore? So what does that make me?

Silence laps again and a deeper peace descends, now, blanketing undercurrents with fatigue.

Later that afternoon my housemate returns from a weekend with friends. She finds me asleep, uncharacteristically still in my dressing gown. A damp towel lies where I’ve dropped it by my bed and there’s half a mug of tea on the bedside table. She closes the door.


When I wake it is early evening. The room is cold, dank like any April, and the door is closed. Outside, crickets drone in the dusk. I reach down and pull a blanket over myself and lie back again to consider brief remnants of a waking dream: a watermark of bleak emptiness, a gutted house.

I lie back in bed with an extra pillow supporting my back, trying to ignore the rush of sensations: the stinging, the aching bruises, the heat of anger and humiliation. Gradually a layer of stillness oozes out of me, thickened with shame, greyed by defilement.
I search through grainy light to the ceiling for something beyond. Questions tug, persistent, circling like crows at a road kill.
I must make some sense of this. There is always a reason; that’s what the ancient ones taught me.
My eyes search further, darting between invisible points.
I wonder if my mum was raped? Perhaps that’s why she put me up for adoption. Was it lust that conceived me?
Or violence?
The questions are disturbing, unanswerable. I break from them, impatient for resolution.

Sitting up on one elbow I flick the bed lamp on and reach for the cold tea. It tastes bitter and there is a brown stain around the edge. A thought tumbles in: stained, like I am. Except this stain will wash off. I wonder if the stains will ever wash out of me?

I lie back again to think about this, balancing the empty mug on my belly. What did my mum feel like? Was she angry? Ashamed? Perhaps she consented. Or did she struggle for hours like me, trying to fight him off.
I’d like to think so. Perhaps she was alone, too, and trusted a man to take her home.
I try to imagine her, telling her family she’d been raped.
No! Such things don’t happen to nice girls. They probably sent her away, maybe threw her out when they learned of her shame. Was I born in shame? Am I forgotten?

I haven’t considered any of this before. How I pity such a girl. I flinch in fear for her: the waste of it, the helplessness.
I return my mug to the bedside table. Could her parents have turned their backs when she needed them so? She must have been so afraid. The questions hang there. I don’t know. I don’t even know how to know. My adoptive mum said she had no details, hadn’t even asked. And that could be true. Adoption was confidential in those days. But it troubles me not knowing where I come from. I have no beginning, only questions and a void, an empty space aching to be filled. A part of me is missing and what hope have I of finding it when I don’t know how to be found?

I turn my head to the wall. And who was my father? Was he a rapist? A one-night-stand? A customer! I wonder where he is now.I lie back and study the ceiling. Does he know I exist? The more I think about it the sadder and more adrift I feel, abandoned, used and spent. Envisaging my own conception and birth, I imagine the girl my mother had once been: a girl with little more power over her life than I have of mine.

A chill seeps into my bed. I hate the cold, it reminds me of death. And gloom, that too. The way it weaves between life and time, robbing the senses, and leaving me to founder like a sailing ships, lost in fog, rolling off southern oceans onto rocks. Nothing like the waves and warm dunes I crossed last night with my friends. I feel them now, forgiving and safe beneath my feet.

My eyes settle on the opposite wall where a poster of Bertrand Russell hangs above my desk. No compassion there, no fatherliness, just his steady gaze. He’d have no sympathy for me at all. To hell with him! What would he know? A clatter of metal from beyond the door announces Jill is home and preparing a meal. Soon enticing aromas waft into my room, fresh toast, frying eggs and bacon; irresistible.

I return to my room after supper and close the door. After lighting a candle, I hold a stick of incense against the steady flame until smoke rises. I place both on an old chest of drawers at the end of my bed and I lie back on my pillows, gazing at the teardrop of light dancing in drafts. A tendrils of smoke laces upward like a vine, dividing into two. The plumes disappear in the duskiness of walls and drapes, and a sweet musk fills the air.


It’s time to move on. Like that incense, my path has divided: the high road that leads to a career, that requires diligence and self-discipline. But I have lost the will, the desire to master anything. The option is to improvise my future, but how? What else is there? There is another way, a narrow path. From there familiar voices beckon, ancient voices. They have guided since childhood, and these are voices I trust. It is they who taught me how to make a whole day out of nothing, how to conquer fear my taking one small step and then another. With their guidance I have already scribed a perfect circle of completeness: my childhood.

The game began that way, too. Small steps: first the bow, then arrows. The circle of the game began my journey, each a lesson, a new way of seeing and understanding, a proving ground, a rehearsal, a chance to focus.

Now I need that focus, a new game. A new circle. I must take this step so that my future unfolds. But I need to find the last game, find where it ended so long ago. This time the field of play is my life, not just the fields of childhood. This time I need reassurance, a reference point; the first step. I close my eyes and follow those voices, back beyond the last few hours, before the wasted semester and years of struggling, to where the wisdom and power of my young life feels so remarkable, vivid and true. Slowly the tapestry of faces unfolds, revealing sounds and smells, a string of memories, each cast before me like beads of dew on spider webs. Am I drifting or sleeping?

* * *

This week, school is disjointed. I have no will to study anymore. I am still numb, and attend classes only sporadically, spending most of my time in the Caf talking to anyone near. Today, at lunch, the blonde guy arrives alone. I catch his eye and smile.
‘Hey, would you like to bring your coffee over here and sit with me a while?’
He returns my smile, reaches for his backpack and weaves his way through the tangle of chairs and tables.
I reach out my hand.’ I’m Jo.’
‘I know,’ he replies. ‘You’re in my art history class, aren’t you?’
He sets down his cup and shakes my hand, with a firm, steady grip. ‘I’m Kurt.’
‘I like your work, Kurt. Your graphics.’
He blushes. His skin is fair, and his eyes translucent and blue. ‘Thanks. I didn’t know you’d seen any.’
‘One day, I was seated behind you in the lecture hall while we waited for the lecturer, and you were flipping through a sketch book looking for something.’
He nods, not sure if he remembers.
‘I could see over your shoulder. There was a logo half done, half an orange. It looked so real.’
‘I haven’t finished that yet,’ he admits sheepishly.

A crowd spills into the Caf at the end of a lecture. Among the faces I spot my nemesis. He sees me too, and selects a table on the far side, with his back to me. I smile.
Kurt is watching. ‘Do you know him?’
I didn’t expect the question. ‘Yeah, kind of.’
‘Stay away from him. He’s trouble.’
It’s suddenly sobering to think I might have to tell someone, perhaps even Kurt, what I know. I look up and Kurt is smiling at me.
‘It’s okay,’ he says, as if reading my thoughts. ‘He won’t hurt you. Not while you’re with me…’
Now I’m embarrassed. He takes my hand, ‘… and that’s a promise.’