Baggage claim

Miska and Bray arrived back from Bali but their luggage didn’t. The tetchy young man at the baggage claim counter took their details, thrust a piece of paper at them with some numbers on it and told them their luggage would be delivered by courier the next day.

They’ll text you, he said. Next.

Three days went by. This is so fucked, Bray said several times each day. The insurance people said they had to wait a week to put in a claim. The airline number they rang was answered by a woman with a squelch that indicated she was chewing gum. She said, finally, that their luggage would arrive first thing in the morning.

We could have medication in that luggage, Miska said. Or something really valuable.


The courier arrived at eight the next morning while they were still asleep. They heard the front door bell and a thump, then the sound of a van driving away.

About time, Bray said through his sleep-thick mouth. He rolled over and clasped Miska around the waist and slid her closer to him and they slipped into a light doze.

By the time they woke properly, the frost had burned off the front lawn and a weak sun was lighting up the kitchen. While Miska put the kettle on, Bray hauled the suitcase inside.

You’ll never fucking believe it, he said.

The suitcase was soft and dark red and bore no resemblance to the hard plastic leopard-print roller they’d described four times, first to the boy on the desk and then to the people on the phone. This was twice as large as their suitcase and twice as heavy.


Neither of them could face calling the airline again, waiting for half an hour or more on the line, reading out the numbers from the piece of paper, giving the date and flight number and full name and insurance company and then being asked to rate the service of the person who’d answered the call. They ate breakfast instead. Miska spooned up her diet yoghurt. Bray poured a bowl of sport cereal.

Miska had to go to work the next day. Her make-up kit was in their missing case. She’d been planning to wear her new batik dress that the shopgirl had discounted because, she said, It suit you so good. Miska had thought so too. She was sure the woman was telling the truth, because she knew plenty about flattering customers. In the salon, women with thin hair wanted to be told how much volume had been added by the new cut, and women with grey hair needed to know they didn’t look their age, and everyone had to feel pampered. She could recognise a genuine compliment.

I can’t go to work without my make-up, she said.

You don’t need it, Bray answered without looking up from his phone, where he was checking the stats on the footy matches he’d missed. You look gorgeous, as usual.

Miska had taught Bray how to speak to a woman. It had taken years of training. They’d been together six years and sometimes she regretted having given him these secrets. Now he charmed ladies everywhere. One day he’ll leave me, she thought whenever she watched him secure a shy smile from some bored shop assistant planted behind a counter. I gave him that and he’ll use it to run off with someone else.

My work make-up is different, she said. I can’t go in like this. Image is everything in my profession.

He said nothing, knowing that she’d used the word ‘profession’ deliberately. She’d been at him for months to think about studying, to get himself a profession and earn more money than he did driving forklifts so they could buy a house and start a family. He wasn’t sure he wanted to start a family.

That make-up is expensive. I can’t go out and buy another kit. She looked at the suitcase, wondering.

Girl or guy? she asked Bray, who looked up, confused.

Do you think it belongs to a girl or a guy?

They both stared at the oversized case.

Gotta be a lady, Bray decided. No guy would ever pack that much stuff.


They moved the suitcase to the lounge room. It seemed less personal than opening it in the kitchen. Bray did the honours with the zip, flipping open the floppy lid, then he sat on the couch to watch as Miska knelt beside it.

If it’s got any decent make-up, she said, I’ll just use enough to get me through the day then I’ll put it back and call the airline.

Bray said he didn’t care what she did with it. Whoever’s got ours has probably been through it twice already and nicked all the good stuff, he said. He was finding it quite arousing to watch Miska bent over someone else’s private things, preparing to sift through and colour her lips and eyelids with a stranger’s creams and glosses.


The top layer was an overcoat, camel coloured, made from fine merino wool and cashmere.

She probably expected to pull it out when she got to Tullamarine and wear it against the cold, Miska said as she shook it out. Remember how cold it felt when we got outside? After Bali?

Try it on, Bray said.

Miska sucked in air through her teeth.

You’re happy to wear someone else’s lipstick but you won’t try on a coat?

She shrugged. It’s not really my style anyway.

Try it on.

The lining of the coat was slippery and soft. It glided over Miska’s pyjamas and settled around her like an embracing lover. She cinched the belt and made a loose knot. The sleeves had four ivory buttons at the cuff. The high collar nestled against her throat.

You look like a million dollars. You should buy one just like it.

She didn’t want to take it off. The heater was on, but the heat seemed to have gathered at the ceiling and the cold air from outside cut under the doors.

We need those sausage things you keep draughts out with, she said, wrapping her arms across herself and feeling the warmth from the coat melting her core.

What else is in there? Bray said, leaning back on the couch and crossing his legs. He pulled his own grandpa-style dressing gown tighter. She did look like a million dollars. He wanted to throw her down and fuck her on the floor. He hadn’t felt this way for a long time.

The next layer was all gifts or souvenirs. Miska laid out a length of batik on the carpet. The design was different from the one on the dress she’d bought. She hadn’t seen anything like this in the shops they visited. She rubbed the cloth between her fingers. Silk. Her new dress had sat beautifully on her figure but the cotton fabric had been stiff and she had wondered what would happen when she washed it. Nice and soft, no dye run, no fade, the shop assistant said. Miska was certain that the dye in this batik she held in her hands would never run or fade.

Miska was avoiding looking at the five red velvet boxes that sat on neatly folded clothes in the suitcase. She loved jewellery but hadn’t bought any in Bali. The good stuff was too expensive. The rest was the same as you could buy from people selling off card tables on the streets of Melbourne. Bray slid forward on the couch. He picked up the small box nearest him and snapped open the lid.

Nice, he said.

A bracelet sat gleaming dully in its shiny cream satin nest. It was silver filigree inset with red stones.

Garnets, Miska said. Or rubies?

Expensive, Bray said, whatever they are. M’lady? He picked up the bracelet, opened the clasp and held it out to Miska. She extended her arm for him to fasten it to her wrist and, when it was on, she shook her wrist so that the bracelet eased down to rest below the wristbone and loop gracefully over her hand.

A million fucking dollars, Bray said. Stand up so I can see you properly.

Miska climbed off the floor and moved this way and that, posing like a model in a catalogue, arching and curving her hand so the bracelet caught the light in different positions.

Fuck me, Bray said.

Do you mean, Fuck me you look amazing? Or Fuck me you sexy lady, let’s make love?

In response he dropped from the couch to his knees and grasped the hem of the coat to pull her closer. Miska undid the belt while Bray tugged down her pyjama bottoms.

Leave the coat on, he said, as she stepped out of the pyjamas. He used his thumbs to open her outer lips and tongued her. The coat closed around his head. He felt the heat from Miska’s body warming his face and he glided his tongue and plunged his fingers in and out of her until she started to moan.

Now, she said.

They lay facing each other on the bristly carpet, protected by the coat, her legs hooked around his waist, moving together with grunts and loud breaths. He closed his eyes and tried to hold off until she was done and then he came.

They stayed in that position, their breath gradually slowing. Neither of them needed to say it was the best sex they’d had in a year. Thank you, wealthy lady, Miska thought. Then she felt the dribble down her right buttock. She pushed Bray away, scrambled to her feet and pulled the coat out. The lining was gluey and wet.

Fuck, she said. Fuck fuck fuck.

Don’t worry, Bray said. His voice was languid. We’ll get it dry-cleaned.

I’m going to sponge it off. She hurried to the bathroom and used a damp face-washer to pat at the stain but when the water seeped into the lining she couldn’t tell anymore where was stain and where was water. She tried drying it with a towel to stop the moisture from reaching the wool. She thought about using the hair dryer. Would it shrink the lining?


By the time she got back to the lounge Bray had spread the contents of the suitcase across the room. He was wearing a pair of black narrow pants and a cerise blouse, both of which were too small to do up the zips and buttons. His cock hung over the open fly. His bare ankles stuck out white and hairy from the pantlegs.

What do you think? he said, twirling slowly.

Miska stopped. She took a long slow breath. She laid the coat over a chair.

We’re not people who do this kind of thing, she said.

Looks like I am. Bray twirled once more, flaring his arms in a grand gesture.

There was a faint ripping sound when he performed his final arm throw. Oops, he said, stretching his left arm across his chest and peering behind his shoulder. Little tear there.

Miska suddenly felt very, very cold. She still wore only her pyjama top. The anxiety about the coat had insulated her but now she was aware of her icy feet and pimpling bare thighs. Her bare solid thighs. She kept herself trim for the salon, but those tiny stunning Balinese girls had made her feel like a fat white hog. And Bray had commented so often on those girls. You’re so beautiful, he’d told a couple of waitresses while Miska sat beside him on a splintery uncomfortable rattan chair, sweaty from the heat, wearing a short sarong and imagining the indentations that would ladder her legs when she stood up.

She hadn’t been sorry to get on the plane to come home. Bali was hot, bloated with slobby drunk white people trying to bargain down people who earned a hundredth of their wage. Pumping day and night, in shops and bars and even in the streets, with tinny pop music.

I hated it, she said. I hated Bali.

Come on, Bray said. You loved it. He wriggled his way out of the blouse and pants and pulled on his dressing gown, then turned up the gas heater while Miska rescued her pyjama pants from the floor and tugged them to her waist.

You loved it, he said. What about that puppet thing? You loved that.

I suppose. Except it was kind of creepy. They weren’t like normal puppets. They were like big insects, and the jangly music … Miska shrugged. She wasn’t sure what she felt right now, but it reminded her of when she and Bray first moved into this small flat together, how the space around her seemed to grow and shrink. It took her a while to settle into having someone there all the time, another body with all its bulk and odours and noises. And displacement. Like she had learned at school, about bodies in water. Except this felt as if she was the water.

She shoved aside a pile of the other woman’s clothes and flopped onto the couch, but she was still cold. She heaped some of the clothes on her legs to warm them. Another jewellery box dropped to the floor, tangled in a bra.

Open it, she said to Bray.

So we are that kind of people now? he asked.

Shut up. Open it.


They had eaten the nuts and plastic-tasting chocolate. Bray hadn’t been able to fit into any of the clothes except a stretchy singlet and a floral long-sleeved top. He sported a sarong wrapped about his waist, the expensive batik shaped into a turban on his head, and a necklace with a black pearl pendant. Miska wore a slit-side dress, silk knickers, a pair of yoga pants, two bracelets, two rings, four scarves tied around her neck and waist, and a sunhat. They’d found a CD of the jangly music and Miska had danced to it for a while, trying to imitate the pretty Balinese dancers with their bent-back hands and feet.

Need to do more yoga, she said, panting and untying the scarves. Hot, she said.

We should start putting this stuff back, I guess, Bray said. He wasn’t too concerned about the tear in the blouse seam, but he could see Miska sorting through a sponge bag that probably had make-up in it. If they got make-up on the clothes, there’d be no more pretending. He fumbled at his necklace for a few moments until he finally got the catch undone, and he laid it carefully back into the biggest velvet box.

I’m keeping the coat, Miska said. She tossed a couple of scarves in his direction and slipped off the yoga pants.

No way.

We’ll say the case was open when it arrived. That things were spilling out. Someone else went through it before it got here.



Bray rolled the scarves into neat tubes and laid them at the bottom of the suitcase. He lifted the makeshift turban off his head and shook it out, ready to fold.

Don’t be too neat, Miska said. Remember, someone’s rifled through it.

Miskie, you said it. We’re not that kind of people. Bray went on folding the lustrous batik fabric. He wanted to press it against his cheek, above his beard line, where it would meet his skin in a downy caress.

We’re good people, Miska said. She leaned back on the couch. Raised her eyebrow in Bray’s direction.

He hesitated. This was a new Miska, with dark red lipstick just applied and her lips open and moist, her legs splayed and wanton, a curl of dark hair peeking from a stranger’s lacy scarlet panties.

He hesitated, but only for a moment.





Paddy OReilly

Paddy O’Reilly has published three novels and two collections of short stories. Her latest collection is Peripheral Vision (UQP).

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