A few years ago I was in Cairns. I went to look at the house I grew up in, a boxy white timber thing with all the louvres, slats, lattice work, French doors and big timber beams and posts, you would expect of a tropical house built in the 1980s. The house sat on a steep gradient – looking down at it from the street, it felt as though there should be countless short stories to pull from such a place.
We left the Hôpital Saint-Antoine at dawn. We stood on the pavement, cold and dumb. I heard the whale song of an ambulance fade sourly into the streets. It was Lewis who turned his back on the building first.
‘Come on,’ he said, with a jerk of his hand. ‘Let’s go home.’
It was Melinda who came up with the idea; she’d seen something like it on TV. Women who can’t have orgasms meet in groups to practise. Sometimes they sit facing each other in pairs with their legs parted and their feet touching – linking hands, they rock back and forth and groan and yell.
The landlord and I meet on the threshold like ex-lovers, avoiding the subject of his three-and-a-half-year absence. I don’t care if I am speaking for him, but it’s the oven that sits heavy between us. He steps around me into the hall and gazes up at the circuit board, while I try to find the marks of whatever befell him the day he was supposed to turn up with an oven. He still looks like he’s in his mid-thirties.
Until they suddenly loomed large in the lives of her parents, Camy had never heard of Nicki and Sam Cabiri. Not only did they become regular visitors, but Camy also picked up hints that they had loomed even larger in that shadowy time before she was born. If the arrival of Nicki and Sam Cabiri was sudden and complete, the arrival of their daughter Suzie was sudden and complete and unwelcome.