Forest

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The door was ajar and our clothes were on the floor. Her housemates were elsewhere.

On the bed she counted the sunspots on my skin, out loud, updating me with a tally, progressing toward dismay – there were nearly a hundred.

‘Have you had these checked?’

‘No,’ I said.

‘You really should.’

Caroline got off the bed, foraged the carpet for her clothes and dressed. She sat next to me and kissed my mouth. I combed her long black hair with my fingers. I got dressed too. Our conversation revolved around the idea of gourmet sandwiches. It was after noon, Saturday, and we were hungry.

I stepped into a deli and Caroline followed. We ordered our sandwiches. Music was playing from a radio above the counter. Caroline started to sing along. The man assembling our sandwiches told Caroline to shut her mouth.  

‘Somewhere with shade,’ Caroline said, and directed us over the grass with urgency. I looked up and saw rain clouds.

Beyond the park was a wooded area. It had a path etched in the ground that ran for about a kilometre. It was a popular track for couples and bird-watchers. I knew for certain that a yellow-faced honeyeater was in the trees. I was ready to point it out to Caroline if we were to go for a hike. I knew useless shit like that to make her cheery.

My sandwich was dry. Caroline was thirsty. I ran to a corner store, bought a cold bottle of lemonade, but when I returned to our spot on the grass, Caroline wasn’t there. I twisted open the lemonade, had a sip, walked over to the path where the “forest” started, and attempted to scan through the thin trees for Caroline. I rang her mobile, but the call went to voicemail. I shouted her name, but this aggravated a man with binoculars who was bird-watching nearby. I waved sorry to the man. Ten, fifteen minutes went by.

‘My favourite game is hide and seek,’ she said, behind me, in a matter-of-fact tone.

‘Where did you go?’

‘Guess,’ she said.

‘The bathroom?’

‘No.’

‘Poland?’

‘No.’

‘Where then?’

‘Guess,’ she was grinning.

‘The boot of a car? A hotel room?’

She stopped grinning. ‘We should head back home. I need to do some work.’

She was in her room gathering together her sheet music. Caroline was a member of an amateur choir that performed monthly at St. Paul’s church. Her housemates were still absent. I was sunk in an armchair watching some movie on my laptop. Caroline entered the living room and leaned against a chair.

‘Why did you say hotel room?’

I hit the space bar, paused the movie.

‘Sorry?’

‘Hotel room. You guessed in the boot of a car and a hotel room. The deli. I went back there,’ she said.

The way home was under construction, scaffolding everywhere. As I waded alone through the people and through the rain, I saw Caroline appear and disappear with every passer-by.