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The policeman didn’t eat donuts, but he did like a warm cinnamon scroll to soak up the previous night’s whiskey. When the call came in, he was finishing his scroll, wiping his sticky hands on his trouser leg, and throwing the wrapper in the bin. A couple of sleepers down at Culburra beach. Pink leggings; silver tarpaulin. Looking cosy.

On the drive to Culburra, he opens a fresh bottle of alertness pills, chewing them down dry. The bitterness is a harsh contrast to the cinnamon scroll, but he relishes the taste. He’d been up all night writing – his daily contribution to the local edition of Trending Texts, mandated by the Text Bureau – and now he needed to be alert for the day’s work.

The beach is empty, and they are easy to find. Lying atop each other: cosy indeed. Sleeping is a crime, but you can get away with it at home, in small doses. Everybody knows that. So why would they do it out here? What if they’re dead?

The policeman treks towards the beach, trudging through the soft sand until he nears the firmer surface at the waterline. He looks down at the couple, pulling back the tarp. A man and a woman. Breathing – not dead. It’s tempting to leave them in peace, but his superiors wouldn’t be satisfied with that. Still, he won't wake them up yet. He delves gently into the man’s pockets, retrieving his wallet.

A card inside reads Editor, Trending Texts. Seizure Division. Oh, shit.

He walks away, chewing another pill. Above the law, these editors. Waste of time. Let 'em sleep.


Wind at the Polls

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We arrived early when the wind was still shy. Our arms too full for handshakes, we nodded instead. I didn’t try to remember either of your names.

Raising our leaders, we tied them to fence posts – side by side, but not touching. We didn’t help one another when our ties came undone.

As the first people trickled through, we fixed ourselves metres apart, pylons of the compulsory corridor. Tagged in slogans and armed with leaflets we pressed our colours into open hands. Collectively we were received and collectively ignored, until one of you was picked above the rest, made worse by a drive-by P-plater yelling ‘fuck Julia Gillard’ to the growing queue. You couldn’t help but reveal your grin.

By mid-morning the flow was thick and the wind was bold and our placards rattled on their fence posts. You threw insults at each other then together at me, as one, you bonded, while we packed and stacked our numbers into passing palms. Paper cuts did little to slow us down.

Then our lunches arrived, yours, mine, his, sandwiches and handshakes of different sorts. Yours were bread and butter and not much in between, but you could talk up anything. Mine promised more and tasted better, not that you’d admit it. Sharing cover from the wind, we huddled together but ate alone.

You couldn’t have been satisfied, returning headstrong to the wind. But you put your hunger down and something must be said for the dedication. Side by side, but not touching, we fixed ourselves anew.

We were stretching our limbs and bending our spines when one of you mentioned beer – you must have known it was on all of our minds. Self-consciously, measuring our efforts against the concessions of the next, we edged a bit closer. With pre-decided preferences we rated our best and damned our worst, while the wind prickled our cheeks, and empty hands passed us by. You were both wary of my passion for homebrew, though I could tell you hadn’t even tried it. Then a lofty gust swept through our corridor. Stole my voice. Caught the two of you unaware, tore the leaflets from your hands and whipped up a two-toned tornado. All that blueandred. And I held mine tight in white-knuckled fists. And I watched as you ran after your losses.

By afternoon the flow had slackened and our energy was dwindling. I bought us each a coffee. One of you offered me a mint. The other gave me a secret – a whispered confession that you voted my way.

Later, when the wind pulled your leader from her post, I helped you tie the corners back down. Quietly, you thanked me.

It was dark when we packed up what we couldn’t palm off, and our efforts lay crumpled in bins. Wind-burnt and paper-cut and arms too full for handshakes, we smiled instead. Then the two of you left, holding all that you could carry, while your leaders remained – fixed to the fence and fighting the wind.

Russian Dolls

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I am thirty when my brother’s wife moves into the tent. ‘People say postpartum depression can get pretty weird,’ my brother says. He shrugs, but his hand is white knuckled around the neck of his Fat Yak and I glance back out at the rain. It is pelting down loud on the tin roof above us, edging in through the slats of the wall. We are sitting on the balcony of their old Queenslander, and my brother’s wife is inside her tent in the middle of the living room. I face outside, but my brother always faces in, his gaze fixed through the door.

‘It’s all very Wes Andeson,’ I joke, but it’s not funny.

‘I hear her crying,’ my brother says. ‘All the time.’

‘Well, it’s been a hard few weeks.’ I take a drink. My beer is warming up despite the stubby cooler, the condensation sweating through it.

‘Not my wife,’ he says. ‘The baby.’

‘Huh,’ I reply.

My brother takes another drink, his back resting against the wall.

‘I’m getting wet,’ he says after a second, and I wonder if I should have said something more, but he’s flicking our bottle caps off the balcony rail and moving inside. He doesn’t ask me to leave, but he doesn’t need me to. I wish our sister was here, who would know what to say, but instead I just peel out of the deckchair and reach for the box of my daughter’s hand-me-downs. I should have picked them up weeks ago, I suppose. I can hear the shuffle of my brother’s bare feet on the wooden floors. I reach for my car keys that hang heavy in my pocket before heading down the front steps. When I turn back, my brother has unzipped the front of the tent and has climbed inside with his wife, and they lie in their home in their house like the sweet, small thing in the middle of a Russian doll.