Steve Quotes in Sleepers
At Steve's barbeque that night, he walked up and down the brand-new paved barbeque area, bordered by lines of sleepers. Set at intervals in the freshly shovelled topsoil were small clumps of perennials, which reminded Ray somehow of a hair transplant.
“It looks great,” he called, feeling Steve's eyes on him.
There must have been something wrong with him, some bug he had—how else to explain that bottomed-out energy, the sapped, exhausted feeling as he watched Steve turning steaks on the grill? He'd go and have a check-up. A blood test.
“A rustic border,” Steve was saying. Full of focus and purpose, pressing here and there on the meat with the tongs. “That's going to grow in no time.”
Ray swatted a mosquito in the dusk, racking his brain for something to respond with. Nothing.
“We'll have a pool in here next,” Steve added. “Get rid of the lawn altogether. Just an outdoor entertainment area. You right there, Ray?”
“Hey, Ray,” a voice was calling him. Steve's teenage son. Scott. Sam. Something.
“Come and check this out,” the boy said, beckoning Ray over to a big black telescope on a tripod, pointed straight up into the night sky.
“Not quite dark enough yet, Sean,” Steve called from the grill, scooping meat and sausages up onto a platter. “Wait till it's dark and I'll show you how to adjust it properly.”
Ray stooped and squinted through the lens.
“I think it's Mars,” said Sean.
The smell of him—grass and sunscreen, sweat and energy, all of it barely contained—registered in Ray's head with a sudden painful awareness. This shortness of breath, the pressure on his chest…He thought of his old man's heart attack, the way he'd staggered crabwise across the lounge room, his arm out, wordless. Take him five weeks to get a doctor's appointment, anyway. He'd ring tomorrow.
Turning the keys in the ignition in his car, he fought the impulse to go home via the house again, check if the car was still there. Up his old street, the same streetlight broken, up to the driveway that he used to pull in to every night, taking that normalcy for granted. His ute bumping up over the kerb and the sensor light snapping on as Ray got out of the car in his loser shorts, running to flab, any fool could see that. Then Sharon's silhouette in the ridged glass of the front door, her and whoever was there with her. He saw her put both her hands up to the glass to peer through its distorting ripples at him.
Don't worry, he heard her saying, her voice muffled, it's just Ray, seeing him for exactly what he was; he could hear that in her tone. Her right arm lifted and snapped off the sensor light impatiently, leaving him there in the dark, and the shapes of the two of them rippled and shifted as they stepped back from the door, Ray thinking he would never forget this one moment as their shadows swam together out of the light.
He opened his eyes and saw he was still sitting in his ute outside Steve's place, his hands slack on the steering wheel.