Authors: Kate Belle
For my brave lovers, warriors of the heart
Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame.
The Song of Solomon
King James Bible
Who is this that cometh out of the wilderness like pillars of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all powders of the merchant?
The Song of Solomon
He noticed her watching from the moment he stepped onto his new driveway. Solomon caught sight of the teenage girl trying to be invisible, a thin apparition hovering behind the reflections in the window next door. He stood with the removalists, rolling cigarettes and stretching the bone-rattling, country road journey out of his limbs. The venetian blinds twitched as the girl ducked and hid.
He saw her again later while pushing his desk under the window of the room at the back of the house. He looked out to see her peering down at him from a second storey window overlooking his backyard. It didn’t bother him. As a young high-school teacher he was used to the curiosity of teenage girls. She’d soon be on the phone, telling her friends that someone new had moved in – a single guy, what a buzz. They’d talk for hours, wondering who he
was and what he was doing here. Judging by her age, he guessed she’d be in one of his classrooms next week.
‘All done, mate.’
Solomon turned away from the window to face the broad-shouldered man filling his new study’s doorway.
‘Cool. What do I owe you?’ Solomon tugged at his wallet, wedged in the back pocket of his skin-tight hipsters.
‘Eighty bucks should do it.’
Solomon followed him out to the front porch, pulling neatly folded notes from his wallet. He handed the cash over and watched the three men crush themselves back into the truck’s cabin. They were still cracking jokes about his oval bed. Never seen one before, apparently. As they’d settled it into position, Solomon had felt a surge of anticipation. It had seen many good times and he was looking forward to more. He wondered what they’d have said if they’d seen his black satin sheets, which were packed safely away in one of the boxes littering the floor.
Solomon raised two fingers in a peace sign as the engine croaked to life. He took in a deep breath and surveyed his surroundings. The air smelled of dry grass with a faint whiff of cow dung. It was good to be somewhere new, where he was unknown, where his reputation was yet to be. Things had become a bit complicated where he’d come from and he was glad to be away. Here, he could start again without the interference of his past. He was free again. And experience told him that in these country backwaters, where 1978 hadn’t quite hit yet, women were only too happy to accept the attentions of a man with a full set of teeth, hair and brains. He smiled to himself
as he closed the screen door behind him. New women. New distractions. Promising of a river of pleasures yet to be swum in, a field of skin yet to be tasted.
‘How does love begin?’
She contemplated the line, tapping her pencil against her front teeth. It was Saturday. A vague and hopeless day of the week. The dull drone of a lawnmower drifted through the flyscreen as buttery sunlight warmed the pages of her diary. There was nothing to do but sit in her bedroom at her desk reinventing herself, imagining herself about to reveal the true meaning of love as perfect prose poured from her pen.
She gazed out the window over the tangle of backyard next door. The house had lain vacant for months, the untended garden sprawling like a lazy dog in the sunshine. Beyond it a sagging cluster of houses hemmed the beige paddocks that marked the outskirts of the listless town. She drew her foot up underneath her and wrote.
Does love begin with a flash of recognition in the heart of an eye? Or with a fleeting touch – a brush of shoulders or a bump of hips in a supermarket aisle? Does it start with beautiful words, carrying love on the page like a feast for the lover’s eyes?
No, love doesn’t begin with any of these things, although that is how we have come to know it. Love began in the long ago, before the earth was formed, before the Big Bang.
She smiled, pleased with herself. Yes. That was it. Love was old. Older than time. Probably older than God.
When the universe was young it took a breath, then sighed with a longing so deep, so ancient, that it stole God’s attention for a moment. The sigh brushed God’s cheek and He recognised it as the breath of love. In that moment God wished for another. The yearning had begun.
She sat back and doodled wobbly hearts around the words. That was what she longed for. Real, timeless love, the kind that lasted a lifetime and beyond. She felt sure she’d find it one day, in one of those pinprick instants that her Mills & Boons described. Her soulmate would recognise her, and she him, and they would be together forever. But it was pretty unlikely to happen here, in this crap hick town.
She continued to decorate her words with fat daisies, listening to the throaty rattle of a diesel engine approaching from the distance. The rumble drew closer until the engine coughed and spat across the footpath out front. She stood up, straining to see the street from her window. Expectation fluttered across her skin and she ran downstairs to see what was going on.
From behind the dusty, sagging venetians in the lounge she saw a removal truck crawling beetle-like up the driveway next door, hairy forearms and puffs of smoke trailing from the cabin’s open windows. An orange Monaro with black speed stripes pulled up behind it. Three young men complained as they clambered out of the truck, stretching with relief. They were joined by
another, the driver of the Monaro, gliding casually up the driveway towards them.
She’d never seen so many spunks in one place. She should call Amanda. But they’d look like morons standing there watching them. Nah. Better to be cool, keep her distance. She crouched low and eyed them, admiring their manly strength.
The men flung the doors of the truck open and furniture began to emerge from its bowels. They clumped up and down the driveway, swearing and sharing jokes, shouldering heavy chairs of tough brown leather, a glass coffee table with twisted brass legs, a modular lounge in burnt orange. Simple and hip, the kind of cool furniture you saw in movies. She imagined herself lying across that couch, a glass of Dr Lindeman’s in her hand, listening to Hot Chocolate. Then she saw the bed. An oval base of ocean-blue velour.
? She sucked in a breath and fiddled uncertainly with her mood ring, pulling it back and forth over her finger.
She studied the men’s bodies, her nerve ends jangling. They were a trophy collection of masculinity, lean and sturdy and strong. Sideburns, moustaches, beards, ponytails – she watched them lifting and shifting, their biceps and shoulders flexing and shining under the sweat of their work.
The Monaro driver was a stand-out. Darker and less burly than the rest, he was cool in tight flares and a smiley face T-shirt. It was a little too short for his waist and she smiled secretly at the smoothness of his belly and the twist of his hips as he lifted and carried boxes into the house. His head was covered in hair, but he wasn’t untidy.
Trimmed sideburns crept down to a short beard and moustache and his long curls were caught in a ponytail at the nape of his neck. He went about the business of moving more quietly than the others. He swore less and smiled more. She watched him yank at a stubborn box, his biceps rising and falling with the effort, and felt a rush of heat pitch through her veins.
She pressed her thighs together, hard, against the pulse in the barely explored place between her legs. Betrayed by her body, she felt every second of her fifteen years. She was uncomfortable with these new sensations pulling her towards things she didn’t understand. She searched for clues in her Mills & Boons and watched, bewildered, as her friends flirted with the boys on the school bus. Three years ago she’d raced those same boys on bikes down Hell Hill. Now they wanted to stick their grubby hands up her skirt and called her frigid when she told them to rack off. In spite of herself she felt drawn to their lanky swagger, but she wasn’t going to waste herself on them. She’d rather wait. Their inexpert fumbling was an insult to what she imagined a real man would be: strong and kind and romantic to his core. She wanted to be with someone who would talk, not tease; touch, not grope. See her for who she truly was. And he wouldn’t have foul breath, black fingernails or greasy hair.
She ambled back upstairs to the sanctuary of her bedroom and diary. From her window she watched the men moving a solid wooden desk into the room at the back of the house. Unlike the other furniture, the desk was old, from another time, like the one her mother used. She could see him clearly, the handsome one, pushing the desk under the window, straining with the effort.
‘You are so beautiful to me,’ she wrote,
tall and strong, like the body of a ghost gum. I long to run my hands along your limbs and feel the smoothness of your skin, tight like the bark of the tree. Muscle upon muscle, bone upon bone, you are a God to me and I know I could love you.
The choke and gag of the engine starting up told her the job was done. She rushed downstairs for a last-minute look through the window. She was disappointed to see the truck already backing down the drive. She’d missed a last look at them before they left. She glanced towards the front door of the house and caught her breath. The gorgeous, muscled, dark-haired man stood there making a peace sign to the departing removalists.
She smiled slyly to herself. How lucky could she get? The coolest guy on earth was to be her new neighbour. And the nearness of him made him all the more delicious.
Monday. School. The curse of her life. She dragged her feet towards the classroom, unable to avoid the cluster of girls standing in the hallway, the hems of their skirts just skimming the base of their buttocks. Tracey was among them, as usual. Every Monday morning that bitch seemed to be everywhere, ready to pounce and make her life a misery. She clung to the wall and tried to slip by unnoticed.
She ignored them. God, she hated being thought of as smart. There were smarter girls in class, but that was okay because they were more popular than she was. She averaged B’s most terms, which looked clever against the constant E’s Tracey and her troop hauled out. Churning with resentment she pushed her way into the classroom and sank into the seat next to her friend Amanda.