The envelope must have been there for days before I found it. It was yellowing at the edges and torn where it had been taped clumsily to the lamppost. When I stopped to peer at it, passers-by cast curious glances at me, then walked on. Two words were scribbled on the front: Free ticket.
I stuffed the envelope into my bag and rode home to catch the six o’clock news.
When I wheeled my bike through the gate I noticed I had been delivered another envelope. This one was large enough to fit a sheet of paper without folding. I get mail so rarely that small animals often set up their homes in my mailbox—a huntsman was there at the moment. She had been crouching over her egg sac without moving for about two weeks. I had googled how long huntsman eggs take to hatch. Any day now. I knew the babies would crawl into the corners of my house, so I had decided to pour a kettle of water over them. But first I would wait until they hatched; I had never seen such a thing before. The mother tensed as I pulled the envelope out from over her.
I turned on the TV and sat at the table as my dinner did circles in the microwave. The two envelopes sat on the lurid plastic table cover. I peeled back the sealed flap on the larger envelope, trying not to rip the paper. Inside were four crisp sheets, stapled and printed with small font and a lawyer’s letterhead. I read them, then went to the sink to pour myself a glass of water. The microwave beeped. I sat back at the table and stared at the only handwritten words at the bottom of the last page. Her signature, small and spiky. A space beside it to add my own. I slid the sheets back into the envelope and smoothed down the seal. The front had no stamp, and I wondered if she had brought it here herself. Had she knocked?
An upbeat jingle marked the start of the news. A woman abducted in the early hours of Sunday had been brought home. Returned to her husband. The couple said they were shaken but relieved to be reunited. The camera cut to the woman’s face as she stood close to a tall, narrow man with deep-set eyes. He was reading a carefully rehearsed statement. I looked at the sharp angles of her cheeks and eyes that darted from the floor to the camera to her husband.
I hooked my index finger into a tear in the second envelope. Inside was a single ticket, printed with the logo of a band I vaguely knew. They had been popular about 20 years earlier. They had this one song that played everywhere. A memory came to me of a blue-lit bar on High Street, humid, sour with spilt wine and lined with mismatched couches and furry cushions. Dancing to this song with people whose surnames we didn’t know. She fell in so easily with strangers, and pulled me along.
I peered into the envelope but there was no note. I looked at the date on the ticket. Tomorrow, 9 pm.
I ate. I sat in the bath. I dampened a cloth and wiped the dust off the kitchen windowsill, then sat down and watched a show about married people who have affairs. Then I got into bed. They were having a barbecue next door and laughter leaked through the walls. I got up and folded clothes till 3 am.
I woke at six. Usually I slept in but I had forgotten to close the curtains the night before. The sun pressed on my eyelids, and sleep dropped away the moment I stood up. The early light cast a stain over the yard, as though purple clouds had rained dye in the night. The withered grass was almost pink. For a moment, it disguised the fact that it hadn’t been watered in months.
As I pulled on my work pants I remembered that it was Saturday. I stared at the calendar on my wall. The wrong month was displayed and I’d been marking off the wrong days. I wondered how I hadn’t noticed that before. I undressed and ran the shower, turning the heat up so that the air grew thick with steam. Then I sat under the streaming water and fell asleep, until I was bothered by the hard sides of the bath. I got out, closed the bedroom curtains and crawled into bed.
At 7.30 that night the phone rang. I stumbled into the kitchen but just as I reached for the receiver, the ringing stopped. I blinked and swayed, standing in my underwear, looking out at the darkening sky. I’d slept for so long. On the table sat my crusty bowl, a newspaper from last week and the two envelopes. The letter in the large envelope said to sign and return by Monday. I grabbed the one with the ticket and got dressed.
I peered into the mailbox as I walked out the gate. The sac was still intact, but the mother was looking thin. I wondered if she had died, but when I drummed my fingers on the tin she crouched lower over her eggs.
The night was hot, and by the time I arrived at the concert my T-shirt was clinging to my skin. I stood across the road from the hall and watched people line up. There were young men in T-shirts, and some older ones in loose shirts with rolled up sleeves. I wondered which I was. I thought of the chicken in the fridge and the news and the papers in the envelope, and then I crossed the road and stood in line behind a girl wearing knee-high boots.
I ordered a whisky but they only had beer, so I bought a Coke and wandered through the crowd, checking the aisle numbers. My seat was in the second last row, close to the wall. Maybe the ticket had been abandoned because the seat was so bad. I was glad to be near the back, though; I could leave easily if I didn’t feel like sticking around.
On my left was a group of three girls. On my right, an older Asian man, maybe Japanese. I nodded at him as I sat down. He brought the tips of his fingers together and ducked his head. Then he stood up, pointing to his bag on the floor, and then to me. Mind my bag? I nodded and watched him walk away. He wore beige cotton pants, white sneakers and a large black T-shirt printed with a faded album cover. When he walked, he leaned forward with his hands pressed in front of him, as though he was trying to make himself so narrow that he could slip into the crowd. He must have been at least ten years older than me. I felt better about my T-shirt.
The man came back with two beers, and held one out to me. Surprised, I took it. He sat down and stared at me, smiling. Awkwardly, I thanked him and sipped the beer, which wasn’t so bad. I could feel his eyes on me as I glanced around, not sure where to look. He tapped me on the shoulder. His eyes crinkled with amusement as he told me in disjointed English that he was glad I found the ticket. I gaped at him for a moment and he chuckled, reached over and gripped my shoulder. It was affectionate. We looked at each other, and I began to laugh. I wasn’t sure why.
The concert was good. The band members were probably my age, but they had energy. Every so often I glanced at the man. I wondered what his name was but it was too loud to ask. Besides, I didn’t want to disturb him. With every song he seemed to enter another world, closing his eyes and bobbing his head. He didn’t move his arms at all. When it ended, he opened his eyes and turned to me and laughed, as though whatever it was that he was feeling, I was in on it.
Later he bought us each another beer and we walked out onto the street. We stood facing each other awkwardly. I thanked him for the ticket. He patted me on the shoulder and told me that beer prevented heart disease. I was pretty sure that wasn’t true but I pretended to agree. I didn’t feel like going home yet so I pointed to a bench across the street. We sat and watched people come out in groups and hover, laughing and drinking. I asked the man how long he’d lived here and he said three years. I wanted to ask him why he had nobody to go to the concert with, but that seemed rude, so instead I asked if he was married. For a second his face changed. Once, he said. I nodded. Me too, I said. He told me that he kept lizards and cats. He said lizards were wise animals and brought him good luck, and the cats caught the mice that lived in his walls. He said he was glad there were mice because animals only choose good houses to live in. Then we sat and watched people trickle away until a man in black came out and locked the door.
On the way home I realised I hadn’t asked the man’s name. When it was well past midnight he’d thanked me for coming and grasped my shoulder once again. His gaze made me feel transparent. I’d mimicked his strange bow when we said goodbye and it made him chuckle.
It took me an hour, but I walked all the way home. I took our old route. Even when she was tired, I’d make her walk. I loved the familiarity of these streets, how they were so hot and still in summer you could barely feel the air. To cheer her up I’d count down the landmarks: the souvlaki place, the pavement buckled by gum-tree roots, the sneakers strung up on the power line, the two dogs that boomed at us through a high yellow fence. One night, drunk and happy, I’d said: None of it ever changes. She said, that’s the problem.
I shone my phone into the mailbox as I walked through the gate. There were now hundreds of spiders, tiny, a couple of hours old at most. They swarmed over each other in the glare, some crawling back into the egg sac. If I was going to kill them, it would have to be now, before they started to leave the nest.
I looked at the mother. Her furry legs were splayed out, forming a cage over her young. She bobbed up and down. It reminded me of dancing. I closed the lid gently, went inside, and picked up the phone. •
Lola Button is a Melbourne-based creative writing student.
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