The rain woke us at one-fifteen in the morning, and I pressed against Liri until she murmured yes. We made awkward, spring-squeaking love for the first time in four months. The sky through the bedroom window was black, the black of caverns and blind children.
She purred into my shoulder and said, “Hello lover”, and I said, “You just wait. I’ll even make you breakfast.”
I woke again at three thirty, suddenly sure that I was drowning, that the waters were rising up around the bed and lapping against my cheeks. The room was dark and the rain was a hundred hands drumming on the roof. It echoed in my ribcage.
Then, finally, Liri stirred and stretched and jolted me out of sleep. She nuzzled into my shoulder. “Is it morning yet?” There was still no light in the window. I squinted at the glowing hands of my watch.
It was eleven AM. It was Saturday.
She was a good Jewish girl, once. Probably before I met her. I taught her to skip her prayers, and how to ride pillion. She taught me to bite my tongue.
The rain echoed in the bedroom, and in the toilet where Marlon Brando as Captain Kurtz stared unblinking from a poster on the back of the door, and in the living room, ringing, tinny against the glass. The sky was grey and hungry all the way to the coast, where lightning curled between the clouds.
To the west was the gentle sweep of the suburbs of Moonee Ponds. If I strained I could make out the prick of lights on the furthest rise, as distant as constellations. Then, to the south, the spires of the city, blunt-topped skyscrapers that didn’t loom so much as swarm. There was venom in those stingers. Even through the hammer of rain the city was Carnivale, a mash of menorahs and Christmas trees and chandeliers.
She tried the TV. The signal came in fits. Sarkozy was to be buried without a headstone; a train derailed in Portugal. Then static heaped upon static.
I asked, “Bacon with your breakfast?”
“What would your mother say?”
It was good she never met my mother, who hadn’t missed Shabbat in all her sixty-eight years. I doubt my father would have cared.
“You get bacon or you make it yourself,” I said. The glow had already faded from her eyes. Four months since she had last let me inside her, and already she was rebuilding the broken walls.
The lights of the city fluttered, then went out, and all those streets and spires and twinkling eyes were lost behind the rain.
There was a poster of Brando as Kowalski beside the bookshelf. Tattered along the edges, faded nearly yellow, but there was still something about the set of his lips that made me shiver. I sat where he could watch me, and tried to organise my tax receipts.
“I’ve been thinking,” she said.
“There is no baby. Save the thinking until a baby comes along.”
“I told you. I told you years ago,” she said. Her hair fell in dark ringlets over her shoulders. “I just want to talk. Like adults?”
“We have to do this today? On my day off?”
“There is no other day.”
I set my papers down. “On Tuesday,” I said, “I’m meeting Alex. Maybe I’ll get a raise. Maybe not. After that, we’ll talk. Alright?”
I tried to do a sum but the numbers all blurred together. I went to the window to watch the storm. In the distance, out on Moonee Hill, the houses shone one two three, like Orion’s belt laid across the horizon.
Then the lights went out, and I could swear that as they died the houses vanished too, that the darkness swept across with the wind and swallowed them whole. There were no winding suburban streets. There were no hills. There was only the rain.
“It’s been heavier,” she said.
“In winter. Once.”
“Not this heavy,” I said. Out in the street the drains had filled and were vomiting filthy water up and over the gutters. The front yard was nothing but mud and leaves.
“Last time it was this bad it flooded the river,” she said. “I saw a tram floating in the street.”
“I wasn’t there,” I said.
Rain ran down the glass, leaving dirty black trails. It was growing heavier. It was one forty-three, and there was no sign of the sun.
I made tea and we sipped in silence. She read her book, a first-world-war history as large as our coffee table. I doodled bored-looking faces on the back of the gas bill.
“We should go on holiday,” I said. “Somewhere with a beach.”
“Melbourne has a beach,” she said.
“A beach where it doesn’t rain.”
“It rains everywhere eventually.”
“Somewhere with a lot of sun,” I insisted. “Phuket. Maybe Spain. Somewhere where they serve white wine with breakfast.”
“There’s no such place,” she said, a note of irritation creeping into her voice. “And we don’t have the money. Not right now.”
“We have money to have a baby, apparently.”
The lights went out. The hum of the fridge choked off. The buzz of the TV on standby vanished with a pop.
There was the beat of the rain on the tin roof, and the panic of her breath, and the curve of her cheek catching the thin green light that came from the luminous hands of her wristwatch.
Out the window all was black. The streetlights were gone. The orange glow of the houses across the street were gone. The rain pounded the asphalt flat, beating on the bonnet of the car with great stone fists.
We lit candles and left them in little bowls around the living room. They made Liri’s eyes seem very deep, and very old. Outside, the storm grew louder.
I tried to call my father but he didn’t pick up. My phone showed one bar of battery. Liri’s was already dead. Our wallphone was a handful of cold plastic. No dialtone – not even a spit of static.
On one side of the house was the empty unit where the Scullys had lived until Mr Scully’s liver went rogue. On the other side were Bobby and Foot. I never learned Bobby’s last name; I never even learned Foot’s real first name. They had a ginger cat the size of a Volkswagen, they planted snapdragons, and they were outrageously gay.
Their lights were out. Not even the glimmer of a candle flickered in their windows. That was as far as I could see; the next house down was hidden behind sheets of rain.
I told Liri I was going to check on them, and she pressed an umbrella into my hands. “Ask if they have gas cooking? I don’t want a cold dinner.”
“Or a torch?”
“I’ll ask,” I said, and pushed my way into the rain.
Twenty paces to Bobby and Foot’s front door. The rain forced me back with every step. The fingers of the umbrella bent down around my head. Black water ran over my ankles.
There were no cars on the street. I couldn’t even see as far as the other side of the road. The rain punched me in the ribs, soaking me from the neck down. I staggered and sputtered.
Then shouts from ahead; Bobby at the door, waving me inside. I obeyed. I felt carpet underfoot. I couldn’t see through the water dripping from my hair and into my eyes. Bobby said “Hello, hello, let me get you a towel,” but my teeth were chattering too hard to reply.
They dried me, dragged me blind into their living room, guided me to a beanbag.
“It’s like this all over,” Foot said. “I was talking with Monica. It’s all the way to New South Wales.”
“But not in Sydney,” Bobby assured. “They have sun.”
“They always have sun.” Foot took Bobby’s hand. “Bobby wanted to move,” Foot said, “but I told him no. They have no culture.”
I could barely make them out in the darkness. The living room was glass on three sides and all around was the rain, digging trenches from the garden, tearing the flowers up by their roots. It thundered on the windows.
I said, “Do you have a gas stove?”
“Not for years.”
“What about a phone?”
“I do”, Bobby said, “but there’s no signal. You’ll just have to wait until the rain stops.”
“When’s that gonna be?”
Bobby and Foot looked at each other. “How much rain can there be?”
We shook hands. Bobby told me to pass a hello on to Liri. We shook hands again.
Then back out into the thunder, into the torrent, and the rain ran in black streams over my lips.
She’d plugged her laptop into my mobile phone. “Go dry off in the bathroom. You’re dripping all over the place.”
The phone sat on the coffee table, blinking. I towelled off and watched over her shoulder. On the screen was a satellite weather report and she panned across the globe to Melbourne.
“Clear skies,” she said. “Look. No rain near.”
“So? Weathermen are wrong all the time.”
She pointed to the date in the corner of the screen. “This is from yesterday.”
“Then show me today.”
“There is no today. That’s all they have.”
My mobile bloomed. The battery indicator flashed. It beeped twice, and faded.
“That’s it,” Liri said. “Just candles, now.”
So we waited.
It was four in the afternoon. I ate the last ginger biscuit, and began to wonder how long the meat in the freezer would hold out. The last time there was an outage it was three days before lines were repaired. But that was almost a hurricane. This was just rain.
I pressed up against the window and squinted though the black. No sign of Bobby and Foot’s house, not even a flicker of brickwork, or the long white slide of guttering.
Maybe it was an illusion caused by the sheets of rain, but I was suddenly sure that their house wasn’t there at all. There was the space where it once was, and rain fell there, and beyond, all the way to the horizon, but there was no house next door. Only the gloom, the suffocating shadow of stormclouds.
I wanted to tell Liri, but I didn’t. I don’t know why.
“I’m thirsty,” she said.
“Juice or water?”
I poured her a glass and she drank greedily. “I don’t know,” she said. “Something about… it’s cold, but I feel hot. I feel like I’m wearing too much.”
“Take it off.”
“Then I know I’ll feel cold.”
“If it makes you feel better, take it off,” I said.
She peeled off her jacket. Sweat stood out in bold droplets up her forearms. “More water,” she said.
I’d filled the glass halfway when I noticed the sediment swirling in the bottom. I carried the glass to a candle, frowned, took it back to the tap, emptied it. I poured it again. This time the water was grey.
“Something in the line,” I said, and ran the tap at full blast. The pipes rattled in their sockets. The water sputtered, came clear, then ran grey again.
And then darker.
And darker again.
And then black, the sick black of ichor, of broken beetles and drowning sailors. It ran black until it stuck in the pipes and the sink began to fill, and there were lapping waves of black against the steel.
It was supposed to be stainless, but it stained.
Brando as Corleone, framed, hanging beside the bed where we made love eight hours previously. It was night but there was no way to tell the difference between night and noon.
“I’m thirsty,” she said again.
“There’s nothing. No milk, no juice, no soda. You drank it all.”
“There’s always something.”
“You want to drink that shit? I don’t know what’s in it.”
“I have to have a drink. I’m sweating so much.”
She hugged me close and I could feel the heat through her undershirt. She was burning inside. Her lips were irons against my ear.
“I think I’m sick.”
“You’re fine. Have a Panadol.”
“I’m scared, Thomas.”
“It’s just rain.”
“It’s been raining too long.”
We tried to boil the black water over a candle before we drank it. It didn’t help.
My watch said it was eight in the morning but I didn’t remember sleeping. The walls shook with the rain. It was a freighter falling on our roof, an army marching in circles through the garden, a shower of tank shells. It ached in my teeth.
“Is it tomorrow?” she asked.
“It tastes awful.”
I pressed a hand against her forehead. The heat beneath her skin made me shudder. “I’m going to get you to the doctor.”
“You can’t drive in this rain.”
I hadn’t the heart to tell her I couldn’t drive at all. I’d looked out the kitchen window ten minutes earlier. The car was gone. I knew if I tried to explain it she’d say it had washed away, swept down the street and into a tree. Then she’d talk about the insurance, the repairs, we can’t afford this, no, no, why didn’t you get the handbrake fixed, why didn’t you, why why why.
No, I’d say. The car is gone and the road too. The garden isn’t there. There is nothing but black beyond the window. Darkness and rain and darkness again.
But I couldn’t tell her those things. It’d break her down the middle.
“Maybe,” she said, “Maybe Bobby has Panadol.”
“I don’t know about that.”
“Of course he would! He’s a queen, he’ll have a whole cabinet!”
“I’m not going out in the rain,” I said.
“Then I’ll go.”
“Fever and pneumonia? No.”
“They can drive me to the doctor, she said. They have a landrover.”
“Just wait a while. See if it stops.”
But she was already asleep. She drifted and mumbled. In the living room, the last of the candles burned out.
I went to watch the rain for a while. When I came back she was sweating, and I wiped it away with a tissue. Her sweat left black streaks across her forehead, like ink worked into the lines of her frown.
For the first time in many years, I said my Shacharit.
The milk smelled sour. We’d eaten the apples and the remains of the yoghurt and the heel of the bread loaf. No way to boil rice. The cupboards were empty but for sugar and flour and teabags.
I chopped the last carrot and pushed slices of carrot between her lips and watched her chew. She was whispering and I leaned over until my ear brushed her lips.
She said, “Why don’t you want a baby?”
I went to the window and stared at the empty space where Bobby and Foot’s house had been. “It’s not the time.”
“My mother keeps asking… when we’ll give her grandchildren.”
“That’s a terrible reason to have a kid.”
“It’s a reason, at least.”
I went back to the kitchen and sat alone, nursing the ache in my belly. I was hungry, but not hungry enough to eat the raw bacon. Not yet.
She woke at noon on Sunday and vomited, twice. I cleaned up after her, and when I went to rinse the cloth beneath the black water running from the bathroom tap I heard her stand and go to the door.
“Liri. Get back in bed.”
“I need more Panadol.”
“Then I’ll go get it,” I said, and lit a match. In the dance of the flame her eyes were sunken deep into her skull, bruised so blue she looked like a corpse. Her hands trembled pale by her side. “I’ll get it,” I said. “I’ll go see how Bobby’s doing.”
“You won’t,” she said. “You stay here. Do the bills and wank to Brando.”
“Liri,” I said, and before I could move she snatched up the umbrella and stepped out the door.
I ran after her, but only as far as the front steps, beneath the safety of the awning. She was already out in the rain, and I could see it bending the umbrella down, creaking, threatening to break those slim fingers. I shouted her name.
I could see her feet, and they surely walked on something, but it wasn’t grass or mud or pavement or anything in between. It was a black carpet, and when the rain hit it there was no sound. Only the rattle on our tin roof, and me calling, and the doom-drumming of my heartbeat in my ears.
I went back to watch from the kitchen window but she was already gone.
It was Monday, and I was hungry.
And thirstier still.
Why did it have to be black? If it was red, at least it would be biblical.