She takes off her shoes and watches him from her eleventh-floor office window. He has sole ownership of the sky, striding out above the city on a high wire of his own making. Away up there, noise and traffic are of no concern to him. He walks the air on bare feet. Small glands produce the steady length of thread on which he treads. He wears an apron over jeans and a T-shirt. In his pockets, he carries a notebook, an eraser, a cache of soft pencils.
His apron is securely tied, a carefully packed parachute ready to unfurl should he fall. Falling’s an inevitable part of treading the high wire. He’s careful to erase any evidence of a tumble, transforming the occasional accident into easy, elegant moves. He dances with paper and pencils, after all; he knows about balancing.
When he runs, she can hardly bear to watch. Her heart pounds. Beads of sweat gather on her top lip. But he’s magnificent outlined against the blue. She drops her pen and watches him move, his arms a levelling span, spread wide as wings on either side of him.
As I walk into the party with my friend Anya, I notice him, an indistinct figure at the back of the room. He’s by the bookcase, bending close to the spines, trying to read the titles in the dim light. I’m not sure why but he’s caught my eye in the crowded room. Anya joins a small cluster of people near the sofa. I can’t hear their conversation but they all seem to be talking and laughing a bit too animatedly, in that party sort of way. I can almost see the conversation suspended over them in cartoon speech bubbles full of exclamation points. Anya gestures at me to come and join her group. I smile and wave back but don’t move. I like my vantage point. I pull out a cigarette from my bag and realise I don’t have a light, and then, just like in the movies, he’s in front of me with a lighter. It’s no plastic Bic but a flashy designer number. This is too unreal. Perhaps he’s under the misapprehension that I’m alone and a wallflower. He’s here to rescue me.
It’s time to rescue myself. I grab a nearby bottle of wine. ‘It’s a nice night. Shall we go out into the garden and look at the stars?’ I ask him.
Mildred and Harriet rocked back and forth, back and forth, on the cracked and peeling porch of the little house on the corner by the lake. Squeak-squeak went the chairs, but the ladies no longer heard the sound. After so many years, it was no more distracting than a breeze. This cold Fall morning, they had been going on about something of great importance to do with an egg yolk, when Mildred turned in her chair, a new idea wiggling through her mind like a mouse looking for cheese in a maze.
‘Ought to go swimmin’, Har.’ Mildred was looking at the water with a gleam in her eyes of pure excitement. ‘Ought to give ourselves a chill.’
Harriet followed Mildred’s gaze.
‘Don’t swim, Mil. Never did. Ma thought it’d give us the crabs.’
Mildred cackled. ‘The crabs! Funny ol’ woman, your ma.’ Mildred and Harriet sat silent a moment, then Harriet spat her tobacco into a can. ‘Might as well teach me, Mil. Not likely I’ll get any younger.’
Frank gets into the car, turns the key in the ignition and backs down the drive. A warning prickles the back of his neck. Don’t take the train. But it’s only one stop, a pleasant little outing for Carol – a change of scene. Going in the car wouldn’t be the same.
Carol is waiting at reception. Her straw hat is held on with white elastic under her chin. It contrasts sharply with her black leather jacket. He also notices her thick white ankle socks are at odds with her sling-back shoes. When she sees him, she beams, and takes an unsteady step forward, eager to be out of there. The caregiver, Denise, reaches for her arm.
‘Ow!’ Carol, grimaces and shakes her off. Denise smiles benignly over her head.
‘What have you been up to?’ Carol asks Frank.
‘Oh just the usual, work and stuff.’
‘He was in the paper this week,’ says Denise.
‘Wow.’ Carol’s eyes are wide behind the lenses of her glasses.
‘The hero of the Housing Corp …’
‘Housing New Zealand,’ Frank corrects automatically.
Denise rolls her eyes. ‘Same thing. Anyway, Carol, your man here came up with a way to join two houses together for a big Island family.’
Carol looks at him with wonder, as though he’s a magician.
‘Wow,’ she says again.