My forehead presses against the car window and the backs of my eyelids are reddish yellow against the sunlight. Next to me, Bug protests his carseat prison, loudly. We should stick to our plans, Emil says over the din. So we meet them for lunch; the crunch of loose gravel telling me we’re at the park.
They can tell as soon as I get out of the car. Emil heaves Bug into the carrier and directs my right hand into his left. Slower, I say, as he leads me across the road. My eyes are on my feet. Shh-shh, over the gravel, my feet slippery. Then the grass, bright strips in the sun and dull in the shade, towards Harry and Andrea. Their heads are still and their eyes fix on me as we cross the grass in small and creaky strides.
I’m pulled into the mist of Andrea’s red curls; squinting into the sun, she hugs me tightly. How’s Melbourne? I ask Harry. How’s the weather? I could probably sustain a conversation about the weather. He’s in Geelong, not Melbourne. Oh. Is the weather the same in Geelong? His hands wave around in the air, like he’s directing traffic. If Melbourne is here, he jabs his forefinger, then Geelong is seventy-five kilometres south-west – jab, the other forefinger, here . . . He trails off, looking at me. I’m trying to clear up whether his air map is facing me, or facing him, but I think I’m gaping. Though to be honest, even on another day, I probably still wouldn’t know where Geelong was. I love Melbourne, I say clumsily. Harry pauses, and then smiles with that look he and Andrea had when I arrived. I try to smile back but it feels like a rictus. I need to get into the chair, one arm then sit then legs. They’ll sort out the food.
On the table in front of me is a bowl, a fork and a spoon, and a drink to the top left. The conversation hovers over me but I need to push the words away to eat. So I laugh when I hear laughter, and say Mmm every now and then. One hand has the fork, the other the spoon. The fork trembles a little as it spears the pasta, and a little on the way to my mouth. It’s thick and creamy and sticks a little in my throat.
If I want to reach the water, I must put down the spoon.
At the other end of the table I see Andrea reaching for Bug, who is sitting on the table with round, dark eyes and an open mouth, propped up by Emil. She asks Emil if she can hold Bug and I feel my shoulders go up my neck. My fork stops in the air and my head turns towards them. Emil glances at me and says No, not today. I can see Harry nudge Andrea. Not today, Andrea.
Every now and then the eating wears me out and I stop and close my eyes. Last night, I woke Emil up. Are you awake? Uhhh, he groaned. I can’t sleep, I said, poking the space between his ribs with my finger. I lay on my back and felt the black behind my eyes and around my skin. I thought of all the things I had to do so Bug would grow up all right but I couldn’t hold the thoughts long enough in my head to remember them all. I could wake Emil up and tell him, he would remember the things. But someday, one day, I would be old, and maybe Emil wouldn’t be here, and I would still have these thoughts. And if he wasn’t there then who would I tell? Then I heard Bug stir, so I picked him up and pat-patted him. His eyes closed and his fists clenched, my thoughts turned to liquid, running down my cheeks, thick and heavy enough to halt everything else. They slowed my walk and trembled my hands.
So now, sometimes in the middle of the conversation in the park, I shut my eyes, and loll my head to the side, because the words have jammed up inside.
Next to our café is a sign that says Centennial Park Cycles, and a blue and yellow row of pedalcabs in the sun. The posts are blue, the hoods yellow. Harry and Andrea want to go for a ride. Emil looks up from spooning mush into Bug’s mouth. Why don’t you go too? he says. I’ll hang on to Bug. Take him for a walk.
Two children, about seven or eight years old, jump into one and squeal as they take off down the circuit.
Okay, I say.
They steer me towards the cabs, one on either side. Harry gets in the front and I’m behind him, with Andrea to my right. She puts her hands on the bar in front. I do the same, and then put my feet on the pedals, right then left. Harry wants to time our route on his new marathon running watch. Andrea rolls her eyes.
The pedalcab starts slowly, a gentle roll. My feet start circling because Harry is pedalling and my pedals are connected to his. Above us, the yellow fibre of the pedalcab roof flaps in the breeze. We come to an intersection and Harry holds out his hand like he’s on a bike. We turn into a lane of scraggy, thick trees, branching up high.
I’m not talking, but it’s all right because Harry and Andrea are talking, but only about pedalcabs.
The road climbs, Harry pedals furiously, calling out our speed. There’s a lull at the top of the hill before we take off. Downhill, I hover my feet and watch the ground below smooth out into lines. Rumbling wheels and breezy hair. The roof flaps faster. The lawn to my left is a streak. There’s a dog running; a greyhound, as if he is chasing us, but we break off and the bit of grass he exists on spins away.
I hear a crunch and turn my head to the right. Andrea’s jumped over the door and is running alongside the pedalcab, giggling. Did I ever do things like that? Laughter echoes off the yellow roof and onto my face and then out of me, before I can catch it. She’s lagging behind us, still running, bouncing red curls everywhere. The clouds bend, unsteady down the hill, my feet are off the pedals and hands are in the air.
At the end, which is also the start, Harry’s watch is at fifteen minutes and twenty seconds. He dismounts; Andrea pulls up, puffing. There are a few more moments. Maybe undetectable by Harry’s watch, but a few more fractions of a second. I spy Emil, he’s circling the oval opposite with Bug. They grow larger and I can make out Bug’s eyes as they head towards me.
Kalhari Jayaweera is a Sri Lankan Australian writer based in Sydney.