Fiction | What it means to say yes

We meet in the domestic terminal. A departure lounge cliché. You with your schooner of James Squire in the airport bar and me with a stale glass of sparkling, the last dregs of the bottle smelling a bit like feet. We sit at different tables. You take a photo of your beer, framed by the window, the wingtip of the aeroplane beyond. I scribble in my journal wingtip.

We drain our drinks at the same time and somehow end up elbow to elbow at the counter to order the next. Did you orchestrate this or did I? It doesn’t seem important in the moment but later I will fixate on it. Who made the first move?

We pay for our own drinks and when we turn back to our respective places on each side of the lounge, all the spare spaces have filled in behind us. I had agonised over leaving my journal, my sunglasses, as a sign of my possession of the table, then hadn’t.

‘Come sit with me,’ you say, nodding back to where your wheeled carry-on marks your territory. I follow you back to your table.

You talk and I mostly listen. You are younger than me but not by much. You only want to talk about very important things. Politics, the climate crisis, (your masculinity?) consent. Your hands tear a coaster to shreds while your second beer warms untouched.

We are on the same flight, it turns out, but not in nearby seats. I read a novel, and drink two tiny bottles of shiraz. My mind wanders to you because I hadn’t said (call me?) goodbye. I look for you when I inch up the aisle before landing, to brush my teeth and rub the red wine stains from my chapped lips in the claustrophobic bathroom, but the cabin is crowded and you aren’t the only one on board with a man-bun and a beard.


At the baggage carousel you approach me. ‘It’s wild out there. Want to share a cab?’ I don’t know if you mean the weather or your home city but it doesn’t matter because, regardless, the answer is yes.

In the back seat of the taxi, the leather cool at the back of my knees, I turn to you, already explaining away my wedding band.

At my insistence, we drop you off first. Some deep instinct prevents me from letting you know exactly where I’ll be. You alight on the corner of a busy inner-city block. Turns out, you don’t want me knowing where you live, either. We don’t exchange numbers but I have enough information to find you on social media, which I do, easily. I wonder if you do the same.


I am (intrigued?) astonished to see you the next day in the lobby of the hotel where I am staying. Your business shirt swapped for gym pants, a slinky navy-blue sports shirt that clings to your shoulders. Your wheeled luggage traded for a canvas Country Road bag.

‘No way,’ you say, pulling me into a hug like we are long lost (lovers?) friends.

I stand behind you while you check in. We ride the lift up to the same floor. Your room, it turns out, is just down the corridor from mine.

Unlike you, I am not yet dressed for the first session of the retreat—a week of meditation and yoga and organic whole foods delivered in five-star luxury—so I say, ‘See you down there?’ grabbing at the hem of my jumper by way of explanation.

I change my clothes in the quiet of my room, leaving the curtains open to orient myself in the city. I remove my make-up and reapply it simply for a more natural look. I twist my hair into a high bun, already thinking of shaking it out in front of you later.

Downstairs, the organisers have aspired to transform the conference room into our retreat zone with a few potted ferns and faded Turkish throws. The colourful foam mats are laid out in rows. I choose a space at the back, sceptical, and watch my fellow hopefuls file in. I don’t believe a week here will have me living my best life. I don’t believe I’m about to be blessed. When all the mats are occupied, I assess the group. Fit middle-aged women with toned upper arms, some mothers with tell-tale bobs. You are one of three men on the retreat. Perhaps you are not the most attractive of the three if it were down to abs and jawlines, but I have seen you first. From the back of the room, I watch the muscles of your back ripple.

Our guide for the week, Jade, is a platinum blonde with a pixie cut. From the low scoop of her singlet, her ribs show between her breasts like corrugated iron.

Namaste, she begins.

The rules are explained, though Jade won’t call them rules, of course. Our gifts to ourselves for the week include mandated quiet hours, detoxification, massage, meditation, cleansing. I wonder if the three bottles of booze I’ve packed will be enough.

We start with Hatha yoga and the pace is too slow. I have to bite the inside of my cheek to stop myself from yawning.

I sneak in a few crunches between poses, some chaturanga push ups. I let my mind wander, anticipating the next scenes in the audio book I’ve been listening to. I wonder if it’s too late to get some of those AirPods. I could wear my hair loose to cover them through the meditation sessions. I wonder how far the reach is on my Bluetooth because phones are forbidden in the retreat zone.


Of course dinner is served during the quiet hours. I find you next to me in the queue for the buffet, a slice of (contraband?) thick wholegrain bread on your plate. I want to know where you got it but I’m unsure if a breach in silence is punishable by death.

We sit opposite each other at an already crowded table. I pass you the pink Himalayan salt without you needing to ask. I watch your mouth while you chew.

If we were to talk, I’d say, ‘What did you do to deserve this?’ and laugh, no matter your reply.

For my own response, if the question was volleyed back, I would make something up. A gift from my boss? A win from a fundraising drive? I would not tell you I’d been sent here to come to terms with a miscarriage. As if more unspoken words, more silence, more time to reflect, could cure me from the greatest feeling of relief.


I hardly recognise you when you come into the lounge, long after everyone else has gone to bed. I am sitting on the floor near the fire, writing in my journal, my (fourth?) third glass of red wine perched by my stockinged feet. I have kicked off my boots, believing at this hour I will be the only guest still up. Sleep is a gift.

You have transformed again, this time with the help of a khaki Garrison jacket— your brother’s, you will later tell me—that you wear unzipped over a white t-shirt with shorts, like it’s part of your everyday wardrobe. When you sit behind me on the sofa, I am (turned on?) startled by the sight of your knees. I write the word military onto the page.

You say, ‘Couldn’t sleep?’

‘Didn’t try to.’

Later, when the fire has burnt to ash, I say, ‘Would you like me to come and lie next to you?’

‘Yes,’ you say. And it’s important to me that you use that word. Not sure or okay or if you want to.

I go back to my room first. Brush my teeth. Swap my bra for a cotton crop top more suitable for sleeping but also because of the way it boosts my cleavage. I have already determined by the way you watch me you are a boobs man.

We do just as negotiated. In the low light of your room, we lie side by side, not touching. After the silence of the day, to talk feels like cheating. You fall asleep first. I roll onto my side and watch the way the lamplight catches in your whiskers, illuminating a gold line along your jaw.


I endure a day of mindful colouring, a meditation walk—everything in your life has brought you to this moment and in this moment you are perfect—Jade chants while I sip scotch and soda from my aluminium water bottle. I look up at the looming buildings that skirt the city park and try to feel something.

After a dinner of steamed fish, and a bowl of frozen blueberries for dessert that I don’t eat, I again meet you in the lounge.

‘Are you okay?’ I ask.


‘You were talking in your sleep.’

‘What did I say?’ you smile as if I am about to let you in on the secret of your universe.

‘Nothing in sentences,’ I say, recalling the way you had thrashed, the slick of sweat on your chest as you wound yourself tighter into the stronghold of blankets. I had left before you had woken. In my room I wrote the word Bruxism in my journal.

‘Want to talk about it?’

‘No,’ you say. And then, ‘I’m a very private person.’

‘Sleep in our own rooms tonight?’ I suggest.

‘No,’ you say again.

In the morning when you kiss me, I want to say, if this starts, I don’t know where it ends, but talking feels like cheating and I kiss you back, pressing my hips into yours.


The next day, I feel blessed when we move onto Vinyasa Flow Yoga, but I am impatient, waiting, for what I can’t tell. In Crow pose, I tap my toes to my wrists.

This is a gateway, Jade tells us, and I want to believe her.

When I come out the pose, you have left the retreat zone.

The days ends with a vegan cooking class that you don’t attend. You are absent from dinner too. I take it as a sign and skip going to the lounge. Instead, in my room, I take a long shower and drink white wine out of the crystal tumbler I swiped from the bar. When I can’t sleep, I get out of bed and bust out fifty star jumps fast enough to make me lose my breath.

Later, I steal into the hall with the intention—I tell myself—to fetch ice, and see your door propped ajar. I take those steps breathlessly, on tiptoes, unsure how much of what’s ahead is for you, or me.

You are asleep, or pretending to be, and I slip in under the covers. The warmth of your skin against mine almost brings tears to my eyes. You roll onto your side. Your whiskers rasp my cheek. The closeness is (nothing?) nothing and everything. You press your lips to my forehead without opening your eyes. That night your body is a pane of glass I press my palms against.

Is this okay?

Is this?

Your breath comes out a sorrowful moan. I don’t know if you mean no or yes.

I don’t stop.


The retreat continues. I am changed and I am the same. At the afternoon sharing circle we are asked to take off our watches and place them in an urn. You read a poem and I tell lies about being achingly unhappy. When the urn is passed around at the end of the session, you withdraw my watch and press the flat of your thumb to the face, I can’t tell how hard, before putting it on.

You don’t come to the lounge after dinner. In the quiet minutes just before midnight, I hesitate, falter, analyse the finality of your closed door.


I run five ks on the treadmill before breakfast. Weeks on from the (escape?) loss the betrayal of my body still lingers in my midsection and breasts. It seems desperately unfair that by then I had taken more than seven thousand pills. Beginning each day by breaking the foil of the blister pack and placing the small yellow tablet on the back of my tongue. For more than twenty years I had done this, until I hadn’t.

Six weeks and three days after that missed pill, I went to the clinic and took medication of a different kind.


By the last night, the secret of the hotel lounge bar is out and all the (futile?) faultless people from the retreat have gathered around the fire, sharing stories of home, photos of beloved children. I sit as close to the fire as I can, hoping the heat will deter them from holding their phones—brandishing photos of Jack and Millicent—too close.

Your arrival is refreshing, a cool breeze.

‘Hey,’ you say.


We have not asked about the who and why of home, or here. We have not talked about anything that is not important. I don’t know you and the not-knowing is perfect. You sit behind me on the couch.

You say, ‘You okay?’


‘Just tired.’

‘You should try to get more sleep,’ I say, a (flirtation?) joke.

‘Own beds tonight?’ you suggest. The comment bites in a blissfully painful way.

‘Sure,’ I say. ‘Okay. If you want to.’

But later, you follow me up in the lift with the intent—you tell me—to give me my watch back. In the corridor, you slip your hand up my spine, squeeze the nape of my neck. I turn and you kiss me hard. Your mouth feels hollow and intense. Your swipe card unlocks the door to your room. You undress without taking your mouth from mine. There’s a condom and then a moment of (force?) pressure.

‘Do you want me to stop?’ you ask but it feels too late for that question now. I touch your hair when it falls forward over your face, having come loose from its tie. The swiftness with which you swat my hand away, pinning my arm to the mattress by the wrist comes as a (shock?) realisation. You have spent a week building walls and my fingers ache from scaling them. I wonder if I wanted this. I wonder if I wanted it right up until we both got exactly what we’d asked for.


Megan McGrath

Megan McGrath is an award-winning writer from Minjerribah (North Stradbroke Island) in Queensland. She has written for the New York Times, Overland, Griffith Review, Meanjin and Tracks magazine, among others. Her short story collection, All Hands, is published by Spineless Wonders.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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