Elise lived on the other side of Bridge Rd when she first met Sasha. Glebe in late spring was full of jasmine sending sprays of flowers to tangle with the morning glories and plumbago. Frangipani trees leaned out to sprinkle the footpaths with white and yellow flowers, and like someone possessed Elise always picked them up. She would arrange them on the windowsills of the rented terrace and they would brown in the sun. The cat would bat them around the polished floors into the laundry cupboard, where there was a pile of old flowers composting in the corner. Elise and Eddy didn’t mind. Just as they didn’t mind the stair that groaned when you trod on it, or living in the smallest room in the house where they could only fit a bed and a chair. They didn’t mind that the chair’s seat was made of a chopping board. Nor, that the bed shrieked when they got into it.
These things worried Sasha. When she came to visit the cat was eating a chicken wing on the carpeted stair. The bookshelf teetered, it was so overloaded and every book had sticky notes and postcards protruding from it. She wanted to straighten the novels, or even more than that, she wanted to arrange them with their spines in descending order, in clumps of colour. To put the ornaments on the mantle piece and wash the scarves that draped across the window. But, in the long narrow kitchen, Elise was making tea and talking to Sasha about music, about songs, about what she was thinking. Already Elise was talking about thoughts, how she was coming to the conclusions that Sasha found so surprising.
‘And so, I thought that sad bit, you know where you slow down before the chorus…’ Sasha tried to focus, tried to concentrate – but she had just come through the heavy stained glass door, she felt she had stumbled into the sunlit kitchen, and here was Elise, talking about her songs before she had even exchanged niceties, even though there had been a brief embrace. Elise turned from the tea making. ‘So, you see, I was wondering… what is it?’ Sasha hid her eyes for a moment under their heavy lids.
‘I’m not used to it.’ She admitted.
‘Used to what?’ Elise was taken-aback, her close-cropped head moved back on the pivot of her neck.
‘Used to people like you, I mean talking about music and art like it was important.’
Elise didn’t know what Sasha had meant that morning, as sunlight tinged with dust - or was it exhaust? - slid into her kitchen. She had thought that Sasha would be constantly discussing her work. She had imagined a long line of friends for this slightly older woman, imagined, when she let herself, Sasha in jazz clubs late into the night – while she and Eddy were neatly curled in bed together – inhaling smoke, leaning in over in the candlelight to compliment her friends on their performance. She imagined rainy nights where Sasha would help the band load their instruments into the van, wave them off and turn back to the club where the man with the half-closed eyes was waiting for her.
Sasha found herself steered into the courtyard the tea in front of her on the plastic table steamed slightly.
‘So, how are you?’ Elise was wearing her glasses crooked, and she frowned at Sasha. This is what Sasha had imagined; for years at college she had longed for the kind of friend who would emphasise that word to her. ‘How are you?’ How am I? She thought. But it was too late, she had paused, and now Elise would draw back just like the girls in her classes and narrow her eyes. She would find fault with the way that the males in the class were drawn to her – all wanting something, from simple sex to more complicated forms of sympathy. But Elise had waited, still frowning. ‘You are OK aren’t you?’ This isn’t Lismore anymore, Sasha sighed to herself. She looked up at Elise and for a second her green eyes flickered. This was the kind of meaningful friendship people on the outside had. You didn’t need Christ to talk to one another did you?
‘Yes, I’m fine, just a bit tired I ‘spose.’ And she busied herself drinking tea.
‘Well, I’m tired too. Eddy had to go to this thing last night, with the scholarship candidates, and he’s only just home now, completely shit-faced. He stinks like a butcher’s armpit.’ Sasha caught by surprise, lost all her self-consciousness in laughter. When she laughs it’s like when she sings, Elise noticed, her throat opens her face relaxes. She’s like another Sasha.
Elise loved Eddy’s long narrow-boned feet. She loved the way his hair was wild in the morning, ruffling on the pillow. Elise loved the way he spoke and smiled, the way he made her coffee, the way he fitted into the dip in the mattress with her. If she had stopped to think about it, there wasn’t much that Elise didn’t love about Eddy. Though if anyone had asked her she would have hesitated to say that she would definitely marry him, move cities for him, find infinite pleasure travelling with him and have his children. All these things seemed too far away. Indefinite. It was too early to think about all this as far as she was concerned. How they were made Elise happy, and this pleased Eddy. They walked down to their favourite Italian restaurant on Fridays, stopping for a bottle of wine on the way, talking together, laughing, Eddy stopping to balance on a fence, Elise stopping to smell the stephanotis hanging from a garage roof.