It had been one of those bright afternoons that seemed to eat into the evening. Bats circled, backlit by clouds, and smoke trailed upwards out of chimneys. The cement was dark and wet, obscured in places by piles of disintegrating leaves. The streetlamps shone in their remote and self-contained fashion and the smell of fried onion and meat lingered in the alleyways we wandered through on our way to the car. Clare had lit a cigarette and was talking about her old bike, while David was punching the air and asking about dinner on Tuesday. Two weeks ago, Clare and I began discussing how we might lose David, who, after initially being such a pleasure to hang out with, began to trouble us. He clearly had something to hide. We speculated that he might have groups of friends all over the world. People he was forced to leave behind, after worrying them with strange insights once he became uninhibited. He has an aggressive streak, said Clare, which makes me feel as though humans are only meaningful to him when they’re at his mercy.
Still, we felt obliged to answer his calls and walk his dog when he went away on weekends. We finally decided to come clean on a trip to my cousin’s farm. There was a creek below the house, a few hundred metres from the garden fence. We walked with David and another friend, Nathan, through the old, rusted iron gate. We were astounded at the dampness rising from the ground and the tattered grandeur of the massive yellow-box eucalypts. Clare told a lie about a red peacock and an eagle doing battle in some YouTube clip, and David chimed in with a detail about a silver mullet, frozen in the air above a lagoon. As always, he punched the air while he talked, working it over with jabs, right hooks and uppercuts, making whooshing sounds and ducking invisible attacks.
David, Clare began, and then she paused, stopped walking and attempted to catch his eye. They stood there for a while, mist rising around them, while memories from my past flashed up in my mind.
I asked Clare what she had experienced when David stopped to look at her. She described it as a feeling without any visual information, but nonetheless something she understood in great detail and had made a commitment not to share. Why, I asked her, is it because you don’t love me anymore? Clare was wise enough to understand that my anxieties would soon pass and the greatest concern was working out a way to defuse or disable the ghastly deeds and intentions that populated David’s soul. She described it to me in theoretical terms: a choice between further exposing people to the details of that crippled interior, and coming up with a way to neutralise its power through gradual, nuanced forgetting.