Sentenced to Obscurity
A tortured tale of forbidden love that degenerates into a dystopian nightmare
Author Indigo Meier does not take risks, but he does have a furtive imagination that spawns the futuristic tale, 'Humanity's Sunset over Osaka Bay'.
His first mistake is to fall for an actress on hard times; the beautiful Charlotte Watson. The second is to allow her to be the only person to read his novel. All subsequent mistakes are written into a history that could destroy them both.
Humanity will never be the same
The future isn’t written, it is rewritten
The past was not written, it was designed...
Lost in time and confined by space
One captivated by another, captivating
A third captive in mind, body and spirit by his captor
Each writing the other’s future, while framing their past
“I’ve been contemplating book signings and burnings.”
Have you a book you wish to write; a signature to scorch?
“Yes, but will I get my fingers burnt? I know the penalties. They burn writers, don’t they… and their books? To imagine is obscene, to form the letters... heresy.”
What is a book, Citizen M-1K1?
“It is only words, am I not right?”
A book is an idea that infects the mind and once the words are in type, the contagion spreads to others.
“Is not Humanity’s Sunset over Osaka Bay full of ideas?”
As is every book, Citizen. I think you should enjoy the view. Osaka sets vermilion and marigold tonight; is your world not perfect?
“Yes, but I dream of a world wrapped in its own anomalies; of a wall within a wall, with humanity pouring through, yet banging their heads against it. There is a world on the other side, but I find it trapped within.”
It is forbidden for a citizen to imagine beyond the histories that are presented to you. Are you certain this is the story you wish to tell?
“The wall in my head is but the boundary of my tale. The story locked within is of a book, a tsunami of ideas, but I cannot see it clearly, for it has no home and is bereft of love. It is utterly alone, trampled beneath Bebelplatz glass by a million unseen feet.”
An empty bookshelf for tomes that no longer exist... that is an interesting concept. If only they were not forbidden. When is a bookshelf not a bookshelf, Citizen?
“When it is empty, when there is no book to reference another, and when the tale of one is lost within the pages of the other.”
Books always speak of other books, and every story tells a story that has already been told.
“Is this true of Humanity’s Sunset over Osaka Bay?”
There is no proof that those pages were ever written...
Rice paper musings upon signed book burnings and Berlin walls
Charlotte flipped the pages of the magazine to page 33. She had seen her face on many such covers and didn’t particularly like the picture chosen for this layout.
The article was more important.
How much had they actually used from the one-hour interview a week before? She felt the tension in her fingers as they balled up. How had they embellished her words? So many quotes were butchered and placed in alternate contexts. Did her past image match the novel she had just released? Would they praise the personality behind the words or would the editor lean on her history as a hugely successful teen actor?
She traced her fingers across the image of the novel’s cover, which headed the interview. Charlotte preferred the rice paper feel of the printed version, and wondered why so many readers downloaded their reading material. A quick scan of the article was required for closure, a word she had never applied to work before, even though all of her recent relationships had been more like a day at the office. She turned the page and delved into the first question, one she had been asked many times since this interview.
CeleBrit Magazine: From child star to teen ingénue, from obscurity to sentences. Charlotte Watson seems to have come full circle. Where does one get the idea for a book like Humanity’s Sunset over Osaka Bay? What was your inspiration?
Charlotte: Inspiration? I’ve never thought of that before. I think writing is 1% inspiration and 99% desperation.
CeleBrit Magazine: Curious. Was life that bad for you? Or did you just miss the fame?
Charlotte: Was my life that bad? There are people far worse off than me in the world. Some who will never taste the bitterness of the fall into obscurity, because they have been sentenced to that for their entire life.
Charlotte contemplated her statement, regretting the words, her fingers tracing a circle over the final sentence. Words so misconstrued.
If only they knew.
She remembered the moment that desperation had taken hold, just over a year ago. It haunted her dreams every night and consumed her thoughts as she dropped her head into her hands.
“Show some surprise, girlie. It’s ten inches long for fuck’s sake. When was the last time you had something like that in your hands?”
The pulse that throbbed at the director’s temple was not unusual, but the feel of it in her hands filled her with disgust.
“I can’t, I just can’t.”
“You’re an actress. Yours is the face of a generation. They can’t get enough fantasy and sex, so give the punters what they want. What’s the difference between a moan here and a groan with a mock arrow in your shoulder?”
Charlotte knew she had to let the thing go. She couldn’t put it in her mouth or anywhere else for that matter. It was so wrong. The breasts she thrust out, as directed, looked childlike in comparison. There was only one thing for it; she tugged her strapless top into a more demure position and stood up, arms across her chest.
“You can’t? What choice do you have, girlie? Do we have to do the other thing?”
“No, no… leave my family out of it, Sergei. I’ll find the money.”
Captive: 2015 AD
The Boss belted out Born to Run in Indigo’s earphones as he pounded along the concrete path in the fading light. The street lamps failed to illuminate the track, their glow hindered by the clumped boughs of several Moreton Bay Figs. Rounding the base of the largest tree, he missed the convergence of walkways, as did another jogger who headed down from Manly Central.
Neither the dry-weave t-shirt nor the spandex shorts could save Indigo Meier from the concrete grazes and fabric burns as he tumbled arse over tit, but his clutch and roll saved the woman with whom he collided. Her tannin hair hung in a ponytail over his face and dripped sweat onto his nose. The same bodily fluids ran along her ear buds. The music so loud that P!NK was clearly discernible, despite the Boss leaking from Indigo’s identical set of head phones.
“I’m terribly sorry. Are you hurt?”
“Sorry?” Indigo’s natural huskiness, rarely heard over street noise, rose above the din of his iPod Classic, its screen shattered for want of an armband cover. “You oughta be sorry. Watch where you’re bloody going next time, and get off me!”
“Yes, sorry. I usually take more care. Just didn’t see that the paths crossed.” The young woman scrambled off her saviour and offered assistance. “Would you like a hand?”
Indigo propped himself up on his elbows, his head spinning. Furious about an accident that should have been avoided, he couldn’t help but laugh at his own outburst and the ridiculous situation. Life was generally more sedate. The young woman, who stood astride his bleeding carcass, shook her head, bemused. Her spandex shorts and singlet top showed no signs of the clash. The iPod strapped to her upper arm perfectly encased and protected from the fall.
“A hand? I have two of those, and yours are a bit feminine for my liking. A few bandages would be better, and a name to put on the law suit.”
“A name... oh, Watson, Charlotte Watson.”
“Then call me Holmes.”
Charlotte grabbed Indigo by the waistband of his shorts and pulled. She required no leverage as her action instilled an instant response. He leapt to his feet in a flash.
“That was sudden, Mr. Holmes.”
“You should be careful how you handle a man’s spandex, especially when you grab him so low.”
“I guess a girl never quite knows what its holding in, eh Holmes? Or should I call you Sherlock?”
“Indigo will do.”
Charlotte released her grip on the spandex, which snapped back into place. Indigo flinched. She smiled. Sweat beaded across her forehead, reflecting the bike-path light above.
“So, are you hurt, Indigo?”
“My legs are throbbing... all three.”
“The best remedy is to run it off.”
He clutched the material of his running shorts at the groin, stretched it out, and re-arranged himself. “Isn’t that for a stitch?”
“Why? Do you need one? Have I wounded you that much or stuck a needle in your pride?”
“That bubble burst long ago, luv. I could use a few stitches, though.”
“You men are so squeamish. How many kilometres you planning to run, or have you given up?”
Indigo bent over and stared down the path. “I planned to run ten.”
“How many have you done so far?”
“About one and a half.”
“OK, I’ll meet you at the park, if you can keep up.”
Indigo found himself at the butt end of a chase, but the view of his fellow runner in the Brisbane twilight was worth the extra stress on his aging knees. A solitary jogger, he relied on music as his companion. This evening, beneath the Moreton Bay Figs, with his iPod grinding to a halt, his only company would be his own footfall unless he caught up. His steps were light, ideal for sneaking up on his unsuspecting children. Soon in a groove, he matched Charlotte’s daintier shuffle.
The diminished light prevented further examination of her style. However, the five kilometre turning point completed the picture. Pausing for breath, Indigo discovered that his companion barely raised a puff, her forehead having produced little more sweat than it had when she dripped on him. He bent over, almost double, while Charlotte remained upright with hands on hips.
“Are you done, old man?”
“I wouldn’t call forty old. I’m just used to running on cooler evenings.”
“It’s never cooler here, or so I’ve been told.” Her English accent supported the notion she had to be a stranger Down Under. “Where do you come from?”
“I’m up from Melbourne, here on business.”
“That’s a long way to run, old man.”
“I was born to run, but are you game?” He straightened, sucked in his stomach, and puffed out his chest. “I’m heading back to the Yacht Club.”
“Give yourself a moment. I need one too. It’s no good killing yourself. This is supposed to be enjoyable and good for you.” Judging by her stalling tactics, she knew his fitness level did not match his time target. Mouth to mouth could be an option if his heart gave out. She continued her attempt to distract him after a short pause for breath. “Did you sail into the yacht club or is that just where you left your car?”
The question had an alternate answer, yet Indigo settled for one of the two provided. “My car’s parked there.”
“See? Not so hard. Now you can speak without gasping for air. Come on, then. It’s five kilometres back, by your reckoning, and it’s already too dark to run without banging into someone. You might require CPR next time.”
Charlotte led out. Together they merged with a dozen other joggers, along with those seeking a meal at the restaurants facing the Manly foreshore. Hunger forced their pace. Following a long day, Indigo’s nostrils were already flaring at the thought of Chinese, Italian or a fresh meal of local seafood.
The sweep of Moreton Bay, here at Manly Harbour, had been neatly trimmed by bike paths and walkways. The beach, no more than the remnant of a muddy swamp, camouflaged by the yacht club and its row upon row of million dollar boats.
Manly Marina signified the ten kilometre mark. The Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron to their left and the Manly Marina Cove Motel to the right. Indigo inspected his iPod Classic one last time, resigned to the fact it could not be repaired. The significance of his action creased the brow of the younger woman’s face, yet she avoided the topic.
“Was that really ten kilometres?”
“According to my inbuilt odometer.”
“How ironic, this is my stop.”
Indigo raised his eyes from the shattered iPod. “Come again?”
“This is where I’m staying.”
“So the car is just a ruse?”
He offered a weak smile. “No. It’s over there — the crappy work ute.”
“Which boat is yours?”
“Boat! Jesus luv, that’s a bit toff. I’m staying at the motel. I’ve never been into water beds. You won’t find me seasick in wet dreams.” Indigo allowed his mind to drift back to breakfast. He had not seen Charlotte amongst the small gathering. “You’re not seriously sleeping on a boat?”
“Why not? The weather’s good. I’ll be rocked to sleep and there’s no road noise.”
“Hope you’ve got a bucket.” Indigo waited for the penny to drop and, as the smile crept across her face, he continued. “Did you sail here from England?”
Charlotte shook her head. “No, only from Sydney. I did fly in from London, though. When did you guess?”
“At ‘I’m terribly sorry.’ I’ve been to the Old Dart a few times, so I’m well accustomed to Pommy accents, and no one says terribly over here. That’s tantamount to oopsies when someone bowls you over.”
She ignored the jibe. “Were they business trips to London?”
“Nope, purely pleasure. I couldn’t imagine flying all that way without seeing something interesting at the end.” Indigo tucked his mangled iPod into his bike shorts. “Thanks for the designer screen, and the company, but I have to check in with home and find somewhere to eat. Nice to bump into you.”
Indigo gave Charlotte a lame wave and headed into the motel reception. Half an hour’s drive from the office, three previous visits to the area had proved the amenities were worth the distance. Brisbane traffic was nowhere near as diabolical as the Melbourne rat race.
Reception had been vacated for the evening. He wandered through and made his way up the main hallway. His room felt stuffy in the humidity, as expected, so he threw his iPod on the bed, switched on the air conditioner and examined his injuries; nothing a good shower wouldn’t remedy.
* * *
Indigo’s iPhone dripped with sweat as he held it to his ear. The nightly call to his wife, sixteen-hundred kilometres south in Melbourne, obligatory; the balmy atmosphere out on the motel room patio, more relaxing.
“It’s about thirty degrees, but it’s already dark. One day these bloody Queenslanders will cotton on to the benefits of Daylight Savings.”
“Did you get a run in?”
“Yeah, got bowled over by a woman running across the track.”
“I’m OK, but she killed my iPod.” Indigo caught the significance of the silence that followed. The device had been the parting gift from his former employer, after fifteen years of unappreciated dedication. His new company was a former customer who had poached him. They paid him more for fewer hours with less stress. “How are the boys?”
“They’re in seventh heaven — school holidays, remember. It’s all Xbox, Game Boy 3DS, and computer games. Christmas can’t come quick enough. They need new games.”
“They ought to get out in the backyard and play cricket.”
“And who’re they gonna do that with if you’re up there having a good time?”
“Yeah, real good time. Five o’clock start, ten-hour work day and dinner alone. Have you got any idea?”
“All I know is dinner’s ready, I’ve got three hungry boys champing at the bit, the dogs are giving me the shits and it’s getting cold.”
“Fine, I’ll call you tomorrow.”
“Don’t put yourself out, Indi.”
He hated this part; the accusations of abandonment, even though he only travelled four times a year, and the sour click at the end of the line. He couldn’t remember how often he’d tossed his phone into the bank of pillows on a motel room bed. He would have now, except for the knock on the door. Eyebrows raised, he checked his post-shower appearance in the wardrobe mirror as he walked past, and reached for the door handle. The weight of these fire-rated doors provided continual bemusement, as did the face on the other side.
“I counted the windows from the front door after you turned your light on. Had a quick shower on my boat, thought you might like some company for dinner. I know I would. Oh, and my shout. That is what you Aussies say, isn’t it?”
Indigo stood in the doorway, speechless. The trim, spandex form Charlotte had cut on the running track, had been supplanted by a young woman in a tank top, a pair of shredded jean shorts, and thongs decorated with daisies. Her hair had been let loose, cascading to one side of her neck, and she tugged at the damp locks.
“Your shout? I don’t think so. I have a company expense account. You paying would be a waste.”
“So, that’s two for dinner?”
“Why not? I just need some sandals. Come in while I find them.”
Indigo kicked his sweat-encrusted running gear from the middle of the floor and threw a pillow over the boxer shorts he would sleep in. His laptop sat open on the king-sized bed, flashing through pictures from his most recent family holiday in London and Provence. His notepad and some loose A4 sheets, crudely scribbled upon, were strewn beside it.
“Is that your work?”
“No, that’s personal stuff, Watson.”
“Two jokes made of my surname. How many more do you have up your sleeve?”
“I have very long arms.”
“No you don’t, you’ve worn them down with all that scribbling. Can’t you use a computer?”
“I’m all thumbs.”
She stepped closer to the bed. “That’s a lot of writing for something personal. What are you working on, a non-nuclear proliferation treaty, or world peace?”
“Hardly, it’s just a novel.”
“I thought real writers were ghosts. Is it your first?”
Charlotte picked up the notebook. “Are you published?”
Indigo cringed. “No, no one knows I do it. I sent the first one to a few publishers five years ago, but you know how that goes. It’s just what I do when everyone’s asleep, or during my lunch hour. It’s nothing special.”
Indigo tugged the notebook away from his visitor and changed the subject. “What do you feel like; Italian, Chinese or some local seafood?”
“Definitely local seafood; while in Rome, you know.”
“Excellent, I know just the place.” Indigo affixed the final Velcro straps to his left sandal and threw his notepad on the bed. “My boss introduced me to this restaurant. It’s a bit swish, but not expensive. He insisted on three courses, but stressed ‘what goes away, stays away.’ Of course, I told the missus about it. She wasn’t impressed — doesn’t like missing out.”
“Did you make your call?”
“Did you mention me?”
“Yeah, the Pommie broad who knocked me for a six.”
“Ouch. Come on then, it’s a lovely night for a walk and I want to hear about these mysterious books of yours.”
“It’ll be a boring walk if that’s all we talk about.”
Charlotte cocked her head.
Indigo could not resist playing her bravado back on himself. “If you insist, but you’ll be reaching for a steak knife to end it all by main course.”
He led Charlotte back along the foreshore to the crossing where they had collided. The irony was not lost on him, for the restaurant Indigo had suggested, the Manly Fish Café, stood across the road.
Being such a balmy night, they were offered a table out on the footpath. The couple chose alternate pasta dishes for entree, but Indigo insisted Charlotte choose the Moreton Bay Bug Ravioli.
“You’ve not eaten in Queensland until you’ve had a bug, so you have to have that. And these guys have their own special take on Sand Crab, in a lasagne. I’ll have the Barramundi and you can sample it; nothing like an Aussie speciality. If you’re up for it, the desserts are to die for.”
“What, so I can explode from eating too much?”
Indigo raised his index finger to his mouth. “There’s always the super model one-finger salute.” He shot his companion a look. She rolled her eyes and sat back.
“How long have you known?”
“I guessed when you rocked up at my door, two and two, you know. Didn’t really put the face and the voice together when you were all pulled in with the spandex and sweating on me.”
Charlotte threw down her napkin and stood. “I think I should go. I don’t like being manipulated.”
“Please yourself. Shame, though. The food here’s really good and so is the company, when you get used to my quirky humour. You know, you’re not as vacuous as I would have expected.”
“Why? Because all teen movie stars are airheads?” Charlotte’s presentation of the stereotype came as more of a low hiss than an outburst.
“I thought you started a university degree.”
“I did. I even finished it, off campus.”
“Good to see you didn’t buy your mortar board. I sweated over mine for four years and then never used the degree.” Indigo tore at a piece of garlic bread. Charlotte sat. He found the moment quite surreal, much as he did most of his life; being just an ordinary guy with an everyday IT job. “Occasionally I have a highlight that’s little more than a dream the next day. I’ve seen some fabulous ancient sites. Been this close,” he held his arms out as if measuring a fine catch, “to Billy Joel twice, and rocked with the Boss three nights in a row. Those moments are more the exception. Even the births of my boys are surreal, although the rubbery sensation of cutting through an umbilical cord seems more tangible. Then there’s you. What the hell are you doing here, Charlotte? Why aren’t you in L.A. or Monaco being fabulous and famous?”
“Is that what you expect of people like me?” She paused as Indigo allowed a smirk to inch across his face. “Oh God, you were joking. I’m still learning about your Aussie humour. My friends warned me.” Charlotte sighed, and allowed a tear to escape her eye. He passed her a handkerchief. “I just needed a holiday. Can you understand that?”
“It’s the same for everyone, and there’s no better place. Queensland; beautiful one day, perfect the next. Wipe your eyes, the entree’s here.” The waitress served the two pasta dishes with salutations and an enormous pepper mill. As she retreated, Indigo continued. “Soak in the atmosphere and forget about the world for a few hours, Charlotte. Enjoy the fresh sea breeze beneath a Moreton Bay Fig, tongue-tingling food and good company.”
She blew her nose and tucked his handkerchief in her shorts. “Well, you have perfected capturing the moment.”
“I’ve had my fair share. That makes me sound old, I know, but I’ve had dinner beneath the stars within the castle walls of Carcassonne. I’ve dined on baby octopus on a rooftop on the island of Skyros. There was a bottle of Chateau-Neuf de Papes serenaded by cicadas beneath the elms in Avignon, and there have been long, flat meatballs with fresh olive oil and tomatoes between the minarets of the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia during Ramadan. It’s easy to waste one’s time on this earth. So many lives appear more ordinary than they actually are.”
Charlotte stood, another tear caught in the lip of her eyelid. She bent down and kissed Indigo on the head; his fine spiky crop, flecked with salt and pepper, highlighting each moment of a life lived fuller than her twenty-five years of fame. “Thank you for making me feel ordinary and unfulfilled. I needed that. I’ll be back in a few minutes, just going to freshen up. Don’t let your pasta get cold because of me, and keep your mitts off mine.”
Indigo did not expect the young actress to return. He dug into his gnocchi as if he were dining alone; a state he had prepared himself for hours ago. The bowl not yet empty when Charlotte returned. Without a word, she tucked into her own dish, belying the ravenous appetite of a stone-faced catwalk prowler.
“I thought you famous types were supposed to sneak off to the loo after you’d eaten.” He waved his fork towards the toilets.
“Enough. I’m an actress, not a model, and a healthy face comes from a healthy diet. Now you’ve got me sounding like my mother. Do you always piss people off so quickly? Why can’t you just be nice, like you were before?”
“I’ve been nice all my life — kept a tight leash on this tongue for years. Sometimes I think the old adage of treat ‘em mean, keep ‘em keen should apply to friends, not women, but I could never cut it with that angle. Humour’s my thing. It’s just a little inappropriate sometimes.”
She shook her head, yet she smiled. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been made to feel so ordinary. My thank you was quite genuine.”
Charlotte shared her dishes with Indigo. The Moreton Bay Bug could only be described as mouth-watering, as promised, and dessert proved too tempting to pass up. The kilometre walk back to the hotel did not stave off the bloat of dinner.
They chatted more about books and fame, and she followed him all the way to the front door of his motel, accessible only via the key card to his room. The glass door slid open. Indigo turned to say goodnight, but Charlotte stepped past him.
“I’ve put up with your Aussie shit all evening, and all your talk about writing, so you owe me a read. I’m still curious, you know, but are you game?”
While he contemplated her question, the sliding door pushed up against his back, edging him toward a decision. It had been so long since he’d offered his work to anyone to review. “Do I have a choice?”
“No, I’m already inside, and the night is young.”
She disappeared down the hall toward his room. Indigo trailed behind her without thinking. The danger of the form reclining against his door was evident, yet he allowed the key card its familiar beep. Charlotte leant on the handle and pushed her back against the door, the waft of her perfume from the air conditioning within as inviting as her eyes.
“Do I get to choose the position?”
“Bed or writing desk, Indi?” She stepped inside, hands behind her back. “I like to prop myself up against a wall of pillows when I’m studying a script.”
“Do you mind balancing a laptop on your lap?”
“Does that mean I get the finished copy of the text?”
“Sure.” The door clicked too and Indigo cleared the bed of his notes.
“What side of the bed do you prefer, Indi, lost ark or crystal skull?”
“Um, the left, as we’re facing it.”
Charlotte arranged every pillow to her advantage and set herself up on the bed. “What are you going to do while I read?”
“Continue the tale in my notepad.”
“Don’t give me that look. You’re just as incredulous as everyone else when I produce paper and a pen. I’m not so old that I don’t know how to type. I just write more fluently with a pen. I do edit well on a laptop.”
Indigo handed her the laptop; his current book, in its third generation, open in Microsoft Word at page one. He set a fresh glass of water on the bedside table for her and the young actress immersed herself with three words...
“Chapter One: Obscurity...”
Captivating: 2464 AD
I relax my writing implement.
My wrist pains me.
The art of writing is so foreign.
I preferred the flow of kanji calligraphy to written English. My arms feel possessed with the grace of an eagle’s wings; soaring, flapping powerfully in singular strokes, and gliding across the horizon.
Imagination is an obscenity.
I rub my aching fingers, pleased with the work so far. The dream had to be exorcised. If not, I would not sleep and I would fail as so many others had before me.
Fortunately, I had found success.
The rice paper spread out before me had been filled, less gracefully than intended, but now I could sleep. I would flail myself before my repose. The duties laid out for me precluded questions. My responsibility as a woman lay elsewhere.
Tradition demanded this, and who was I to flout the ways of my ancestors?
Closing my eyes, I tried not to imagine. It was a difficult task. The instinct strong, my fingers twitched to possess the writing stick that freed the words.
The evening breeze fanned the hair across my face. I opened my eyes, revealing Osaka Bay, as if through bamboo blinds. My view my temple, high above the bustling city, ancient beyond imagination.
This is where I stood every night, beyond my stories, alone. Osaka Bay sparkled in the sunset. A million stars before the darkness set in. A dozen junks plied the waters, and although full in sail, they left no wake. Their shadows cast from ten metres above the surface — their crew automaton.
They populated the bay, while I remained utterly alone.
Captor: 2015 AD
Charlotte concentrated on the rhythm of the heart beating contentedly beneath her palm, the chest enveloping the organ no work of art. He called his upper regions a pirate’s chest — sunken. She drew herself closer, his words still resonating in every fibre. The soul she had uncovered served to regenerate her own withered being. Charlotte could not remember the last time she slept so well.
Indigo stirred in her embrace, the only other sound in the room the fan humming within his laptop. He rolled towards her. His morning breath not as distasteful as she had been warned older men exuded.
Indigo fell out of bed, emulating a reverse ninja leap from a Shogun episode, and somehow managed to land upright. He appeared uncertain of his surroundings.
“Is that my Bon Jovi T-shirt?”
“I needed something warmer after you fell asleep over your notepad.” Charlotte sighed. “But there’s more.”
“There’s always more.”
“No, Indigo, not that. I’ve never read anything like your novel. I couldn’t stop reading, just like you wrote until you dropped. Before I knew it I’d lost hours. Time I will never regret. Wandering across the pontoons between the yachts in the dark could be deemed a bit mad.”
“Of course, you fell asleep. So did I — but I have to go to work — after I shower.” Indigo shook his head. “She’ll kill me if she even gets a whiff that you spent the night.”
Charlotte refrained from commenting, yet she didn’t vacate Indigo’s bed. She remained propped up on one elbow as he fumbled for fresh clothes in his day pack. He had everything he needed, and just a little bit more for her comfort, yet she had never seen anyone pack this light.
Charlotte toyed with the idea of popping into the bathroom and brushing her teeth, but decided to delve back in to the laptop instead, and leave him to his sanctuary. Indigo’s stories fascinated her, his reaction and as intriguing as his settings. She wondered how he had chosen his many varied locales.
“Hey, Indi, have you visited all the places in your books or is that just research?”
“Sorry?” He poked his head out of the bathroom, squidgying water out of his ears. His hair was at odds, matching his extreme waking humour.
“Have you been to all the places you write about?”
“Oh, about ninety-five per cent, maybe more.”
“Do you visit the places first or write about them and then check them out?”
Charlotte couldn’t imagine writing about a place she’d never been, despite her years starring in fantasy movies. Nor could she picture herself writing with such variety. Most of the writers she had met dealt with a single genre, but Indigo chopped and changed, sometimes within the same novel.
“Do you mind if I stay and read some more?” He didn’t answer, but he did poke his head out of the bathroom door again, toothpaste frothing at his mouth. She used the opportunity to pounce. “I’ll give you my purse, so you know I won’t skip town, or you can have my passport.”
A frown served as a reply until Indigo re-appeared five minutes later, fully dressed, his mouth wiped clean. “You don’t have to do that. It’s not as if anyone will read that futuristic rubbish—”
“It’s not rubbish, Indi.”
“So you say. You know, once upon a time I was just as flippant about wasting a day. Oh, to be young. And yet I continue to do so, in search of more perfect days, go figure.”
Charlotte slid her way to Indigo’s side. Gripping his arm, she eased him close and rested her head on his shoulder. “I don’t care what you say, it’s good stuff, and I’ve read a lot of rubbish. Your stories are sad and poignant, brutal in their realism and LOL funny. Don’t you dare accuse me of wasting my time with your words. Besides, what else would I do around here?”
“You could improve your tan?”
Charlotte stood back, hands on hips. “Really? Is there anything about this that needs improving?”
“Um, no… you’re gorgeous, perfect.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
Indigo took Charlotte by the hand and kissed it. “You can’t help what you are and neither can I. Anyway, I’m off. Work you know. Close up when you’re finished. And thanks for the encouragement. It’s nice to know at least one person likes the crap that spews forth from this garrulous mind.”
He left her with a low bow and a wink.
Charlotte leant against the door to the room, scratching her head on the emergency evacuation procedures. The quality of his writing not lost on her, but lacked the confidence to put it in the public domain. She understood fame, and the need to avoid it. Being thrust into the limelight at an early age had cured her shyness.
She had built so many walls to protect her private life that she no longer had one. Every day developed as a solo excursion. She missed Indigo with his odd humour as soon as he closed the door. Slumping to the floor she cried a solitary tear, yet even this felt manufactured. She could turn them on or off at a moment’s notice, as she had been paid to do for over a decade… act two, scene three, take four, Ms. Watson sheds a tear.
She wiped her eye and dragged Indigo’s laptop across the bed. Determined to read as many of his ten tales as possible, having sampled the first chapter of each, she dived in. Time to discover something new, to see if he wrote as well as she suspected. How cleverly did he develop his characters and story arcs? Would the intrigue of the initial chapters be matched by their conclusions?
* * *
Charlotte paced. A technique she used when she memorized a script. One developed in her head now. It had been fermenting all day, despite her desire to appear spontaneous.
She looked at her phone. Six o’clock.
Indigo was late.
Darkness had descended on the sleepy marina outside. At this rate, there would be no run tonight, and she had washed both sets of running gear.
The wonder, beyond the loneliness of Indigo’s most recent character, haunted Charlotte. She caught her image in the mirror and could picture herself in that world, contemplating if anything joyful could come from such an ordered existence. Could this be reality or something she had been programmed into?
A beep by the motel room’s door signified his return. The door swung open and Charlotte launched her arms around Indigo’s neck.
“Whoa, down girl. I warned you not to lock yourself away in here, especially not with the meanderings of my mind.”
Charlotte released her grip and stood back against the wall. “Sorry, I hadn’t planned to do that.”
“Planned, why should you need to plan anything? Come here.” He afforded Charlotte a gentler hug; short and brotherly. “By the way, I missed you too.”
“Do you want to discuss the books? I’ve tasted them all now. Then I read another one, complete mind you, and half of volume eleven, or do you want to go for a run, I washed your running gear and—”
“Hold on there, Tex! First, thank you for cleaning my smelly shorts, but I don’t run two days in a row. Have to protect the knees and the ankles. Second, you’ve obviously been locked away on your own for far too long. I would love to discuss my books; couldn’t think of anything else all day. Even took an hour for lunch to write some more of volume eleven, but first things first; have you eaten today?”
“Of course, I even went out.”
“How did you get back in?”
“Ground floor, silly. I left the patio door open. I even bought you a gift.” She handed him a palm-sized package.
“You didn’t have to—”
“Quiet. Open it before you embarrass yourself.”
Indigo accepted the parcel with grace, yet he drifted into playful humour as he had the night before. “Should I shake it?”
“Why not, is it going to shuffle into an alternate gift?”
Grinning, Indigo shook his head. He ripped the wrapping asunder; the box inside all too familiar. “You didn’t have to.”
“Yes, I did. I’ve even set it up. I loaded the playlists from your laptop and set it to 1975.”
“Born to Run, eh? Clever girl. Thanks for that, I’d have been lurking about the airport for hours with no music, and I hate being without music.”
“Me too.” Charlotte sat on the bed, while Indigo ran through the menu wheel. “I tried to get your old one fixed, but…”
“It was buggered.”
“You have been busy; IPod shopping, reading, and a visit to the launderette.”
“I’ll have you know I washed our stuff in the bath tub.”
“Gross, really gross. I can’t believe you had your hands in my groin sweat.”
“You wish.” Charlotte stood and punched Indigo on the shoulder, the playfulness producing a smile from him. “Oh, and I bought you a spare t-shirt, something to change into, just in case you let me borrow another one tonight.” She circled him, the shudder she imagined in his bones worse than the fall from her native Dover cliffs. “I noticed you pack pretty light, way too light. You’re obviously now scout, but are you prepared for dinner?”
She felt his shoulders relax with the change of topic as she traced her fingers across them. “Sure.”
Charlotte continued to sate his desires with more palatable information. “I found the Italian place, the Manly Village Pizzeria and Trattoria, the one you said you wanted to try.”
“If they’re not full.”
“I booked a table.”
Indigo did not comment, but she guessed his thoughts: she really had been busy.
* * *
The waters of Moreton Bay lapped with prosaic intent against the Manly Boat Harbour tidal wall. Charlotte questioned Indigo about his plot choices and use of lyrical prose as they walked; his ability to blend modernism with the archaic, a clever twist for her younger mind. An English major, as he had been some years before, she wondered why he wallowed in IT, but saved the question for after dinner.
The Manly Village Pizzeria served up a genuine taste of Italy. A family-run business whose Mediterranean accents evoked the blend of herbs and spices infused into their dishes. Finding it difficult to choose, Charlotte and Indigo selected four menu items, two entrees and two mains, sampling each other’s freely with an average bottle of wine, compliments of the house.
The outdoor setting suggested a theme, even if the evening storm, out to sea, promoted the unease the couple shared. The lightning danced across Moreton Bay like a plasma globe, the hand of God never more obvious above the clouds.
“It might be bumpy on your boat tonight, Charlotte.”
“I’ve had rough nights before.”
“I find that difficult to believe.”
“Sometimes I do as well.”
She pictured her escape from fame and the money she owed. The final day of shooting a nightmare Charlotte had yet to purge. A barbeque would never be the same, nor would a trip to Oktoberfest with all the beer and Weisswurst.
Indigo nudged her. “Gelati? They serve them up fresh inside.”
The idea of slurping on a conical-shaped dish felt weird, yet she could manage to see the funnier side of her companion’s innocent suggestion. “Only if you let me taste yours.”
Indigo’s choices left Charlotte in a constant state of awe. It wasn’t that he always chose the best, he just managed to choose the most unusual combinations; gelati being no exception. Upon leaning in for a lick, Charlotte discovered a palate so desirous that she hovered over the cone and chomped into his duel combination.
The remnants slid out the corner of her mouth with a smile. “Mlat?”
“That’s it, I’m having yours.”
“No…” she swallowed, “you’re not.” Charlotte stuffed the remaining cone into her mouth. Devoured as an Anaconda would a Caiman; the initial pleasure of the joke and the taste dissipated rapidly. “Oh, God… brain freeze.”
“And I thought I left the children at home.”
Short on sympathy, Indigo continued to walk, but chuckled just the same. Charlotte captured his slender frame along with the yachts of Manly, all silhouetted at intervals too frequent to inspire comfort thanks to the burgeoning lightning strikes. The wonder of a storm this close, in an area of cyclonic proliferation, did not frighten her. Indigo sampled the remainder of his gelati as she caught up.
“So, no sympathy for my frozen teeth?”
“Can I have some more of yours?”
“Do you treat your kids like this?”
Charlotte tucked her arm beneath Indigo’s and allowed him solace with his treat. A sheet of lightning highlighted the harbour and its many masts rocked in the swell creeping in from offshore. “Do you think the storm will hit us?”
Indigo’s focus had remained out to sea, despite her ice-cream antics. “Not sure. If this were Melbourne I’d be more certain, but I’ve never been good with Queensland weather. It’s always warm when I come up here, and when it rains, it pisses down from out of nowhere. I’ve seen hail stones the size of your fist on a sunny day.”
“You’re making that up, aren’t you?”
“Nope. When I was a kid, I visited my uncle in Brisbane. He took me to this RSL club in the mountains outside Toowoomba. The storm that hit us made his car look like a golf ball.”
Charlotte pictured a little white car with dimples, driven by a silver-haired old man. She did not imagine the fear that would imbed this memory into the mind of a small boy, only the fascination of collecting the hailstones as they rolled down the road afterwards. These were the kind of images Indigo had fermented in her mind and she desired more.
“Do you mind if I hang out in your room again and read some more of your stuff?”
“Of course not, it makes me feel like a real writer.”
“I thought you wouldn’t feel like that until you saw one of your books in print.”
“Perhaps this is just the first step.”
Charlotte spent the evening propped up on the couch of Indigo’s motel room, more of a suite with its kitchenette and patio. She read on into his seventh tale as he scribbled away on his notepad, yet she found her eyes more than distracted by the concentration on his face. The way he chewed his bottom lip, brushed his author-hand through his hair, and occasionally scratched at the hint of dandruff in his sideburn. He was as ordinary as the life he depicted; brown eyes, brown hair, no moles or quirky features… average sized lips, mouth and ears. A Lindt chocolate out of its wrapping; all the surprises were within.
The digital clock read eleven-thirty as Indigo leant back and stretched his neck from side to side. The signs were clear to her, even if he had totally lost himself in his work. She closed the novel that had so seduced her earlier in the day and slipped her toes into her thongs.
“It’s late and you have to work tomorrow. The storm’s drifted off, so I’ll leave you in peace.” Charlotte attempted to flatten out Indigo’s hair, but it had been set into a pillowed spike. “I was going to kiss you there, but I’ll probably get it up my nose.” She cupped his face in her hands, his eyes a little sad in their ordinariness. The touch of his lips on hers sent a shiver around the back of her neck that she did not expect.
Although she lingered longer than planned, Charlotte did not repeat the dose; she suspected that the thrill of the first kiss would last them both. “Goodnight, Indigo. Write that moment in one of your books.”
Indigo stirred… again.
It was 12:30… it had been 12:29.
He slept sounder the night before.
The clanking of restless rigging from the quay beyond the garden, which framed his hotel suite, signified the return of the storm. A waterspout had been filmed here a month back, accompanied by hailstones big enough to satisfy a thousand bars on New Year’s Eve. Yet, the threat of the weather did not consume him — Charlotte did — her disappearance a wakeup call.
Why did he imagine such rubbish?
Why had he conjured her?
The green light on the air conditioner radiated a glow his wife would hate. She had to sleep with blinds on, even in the darkest room. He likened it to waking up beside a superhero.
A shuffle of the curtain in the breeze and the penny dropped. The door to the patio remained open. Bugger. Indigo pulled back the sheets; the whisper of the cotton unfolding with the breath of an English accent.
“Is that an invitation?”
Indigo sat up. “Charlotte?”
“I forgot I had your shirt on.”
It was an innocent mistake, except… “You left the patio door open.”
An eerie, green aura played over the silhouette, much as he had imagined, until it peeled his concert t-shirt up over its head and climbed in beside him.
“Move over, Indi.”
“Um, this is my side.”
“Right, and you don’t like to share, do you? Or is that just ice cream?”
The dull ambience of the light did not assist Indigo in reading Charlotte’s face, a talent which he prided himself. Her follow up failed to improve the situation.
“Well, I won’t take long.” Charlotte climbed across him, pausing mid-straddle. “I suspect you won’t either. So you can breathe now, Indi.”
“That might make you seem real.”
“Would you like that?”
Indigo formed a word in his mouth, but Charlotte’s tongue filled the void before it could escape. Her taut flesh beneath his fingertips a sensation he had long forgotten; the feel of a woman who wanted him as much as he wanted her, another aberration. She proved too tempting to resist, he too tired to focus on abstinence.
He could not remember finding his way within; she just enveloped him. Indigo exploded with the desire of one of his characters. Lost in a destination of his own making.
* * *
Indigo dreamt of her arms about him all night, as he had the night before, and he slept.
The alarm on his iPhone, the opening feedback of The Beatles I Feel Fine, should have been an annoyance. This particular morning it seemed little more than a fond reflection of Beatlemania spreading its wings.
The repeat alarm proved more effective.
Indigo reached out to silence it, knocking the device to the floor. He tugged at the arm he expected she had draped about him and found it missing. Rolling left to an empty space, confirmed his fears.
He scanned the room. His baggage was strewn across the carpet, as he had left it, with no sign of his laptop.
Indigo slid out of bed and switched on the bedside lamp. His computer sat on the couch with a note… Remember me, as I will you. The guilt he woke up cradling the morning before, having committed no act of betrayal, surfaced. It consumed him until he vomited.
“Serves yourself right, you bloody idiot. She’s old enough to be your babysitter.”
* * *
Eight-thirty approached as Indigo checked the room one more time for remnants of his stay; the new iPod and t-shirt, the only evidence of Charlotte. Wednesday had become Thursday morning and he had to endure a late flight out, following a long day at the Brisbane office.
The prospect did not fill him with enthusiasm. His Tuesday to Thursday travel plans, a regret, but Friday would be a nightmare if he returned home after midnight.
Breakfast skipped and his sign-out swift, Indigo scanned the marina. The idea in his head, searching every vessel to find her, taunted him, like applying eye drops from the second floor, a Japanese term he had read recently book — nikai kara megusuri — while researching his.
He jumped in his car instead. The radio announced the weather — twenty-eight degrees, with eighty percent humidity. The office ute had aircon, but it only had two fan settings; off or Category 5. He made sure his hair sat in the position he preferred it to dry, knowing it would adopt the wind direction of the car’s fan. Groomed, he drove west, towards Brisbane central.
* * *
“Do you want a lift to the airport, Indigo?”
Sales Manager, Helen, keeper of twins, mothered everyone now she presided over an empty nest. Indigo felt loath to refuse her offer. “Sure.”
“What time’s your flight?”
Helen’s smile faded. The clock on her computer read 4:30 PM and she was preparing to leave for the night.
“Do you really want to wait four hours at the airport?” The shock on the Office Manager’s face morphed to concern. “You can always come home with me for a couple of hours.”
“Aren’t you taking the twins shopping?”
“And don’t you live in the opposite direction?”
“How ecstatic do you think two 18-year-olds will be without their Thursday night shopping fix?”
“What are you going to do at the airport for five hours, Indi?”
“I hear there’s an archaeological dig down by the Brisbane River… Aboriginals, 40,000-year-old shell midden… or I could have dinner, and play on my laptop.” His attempted humour did not earn a smile from his colleague. “I’ll be right, Helen. Let’s get you off and running on this new PC; I can do the rest remotely.”
Helen smiled. Indigo knew that look well enough. As odd as his name, he received it from everyone. Helen delivered her own curiosity. Although the Office Manager of a factory, she insisted on wearing six-inch stilettos, which she wore amongst the machines on the factory floor and teetered on now as she stood. They matched her tan and her blonde hair, but Indi feared for her ankles outside of the office environs.
The sun had yet to set as Helen dropped Indigo off at the airport. It dipped towards the horizon rapidly; so much for summer in the tropics. Indigo preferred the late nights further south, assisted by a healthy dose of daylight saving. His only solace at the airport would be a quiet spot in a corner. Somewhere he could lose himself amongst the characters he created on his laptop. Perhaps they would be more vivid tonight following the previous night’s fall from grace.
An instant obstacle greeted Indigo upon check-in. His flight had been delayed by an hour. He sent a text to his wife telling her not to wait up, not that she ever did, found a Subway outlet, and settled in across two airport lounge seats with some Chicken Teriyaki and imagination.
His flight was postponed again an hour later.
Two hours on, Indigo stood at the flight-service desk with a dozen other passengers. The attendant maintained her painted smile with aplomb, despite the anger vented in her direction.
“I’m sorry, sir, but if you check our website, you’ll find you can transfer to a morning flight.”
“And what about tonight?”
“There are no provisions on your fare for anything other than a transfer to another flight. That is clearly stated in the PDFs. All are downloadable with the self-printing, cheaper air fares — where insurance is not chosen.”
“I don’t need the bloody insurance, because my company has its own travel insurance.”
“Then I suggest you call them.”
Indigo was a patient man, anger not his forte. The perfect retort always came to him an hour or so after an argument. He imagined slapping the attendant for her smarmy dismissal. His hand never left his pocket.
The conversation over, as she had decreed in the line of customer service, Indigo moved on. His wait in the queue had eaten up another hour of his life, and the wastefulness of the day began to devour him.
Indigo had spent so many hours at airports. What if he didn’t write? He closed his eyes and imagined being anywhere else, but opening them revealed another tale. Brisbane Airport, no longer the hub it had been, its shops closed and its terminated flights put to bed. A fellow prospective passenger ran past swearing into his mobile phone as Indigo adjusted the shoulder strap on his laptop case. He would have to find a room somewhere and then justify taking the late flight and missing it.
The Friday morning meeting officially a wipeout, expletives were required, yet he could not be stuffed. The day had worn him down. Such a low compared to the night before; a night he should never have enjoyed.
Indigo sighed, before he spotted a familiar figure.
He had chased it, fondled it and dreamt about it. Now she walked in the opposite direction, talking on her mobile. His vision could not be mistaken, even if his tone implied otherwise.
Engrossed in her call, she ignored him. “I can’t do it. I won’t, I tell you!” She cut the conversation short, jabbing her finger on the screen and shoving the device in her bag.
“Hey, Charlotte… Charlotte Watson.”
The woman ahead of Indigo stopped to slide her Galaxy into her back pocket. Perhaps she had had her fun and recognition was something she saved for uncomfortable public meetings amongst paparazzi, post coitus.
She turned. The look she flashed Indigo, the one he least expected as she hissed her reply. “Stop yelling out my name.”
“Why? You expecting a dozen photographers to leap out of the rafters? Am I that disgusting, that disposable?”
“No. God, no.” Hanging off Indigo’s neck a moment later, Charlotte’s words struck an alternate tone. “It’s just, just a bad phone call. I came here looking for you, hoping to say goodbye at the last minute and then they cancelled your flight and… I just couldn’t find the words.”
“Yet the note was perfect.”
“Did you destroy it?”
“As you should have, Indi. I can only give you pain, you do know that?”
“Pain is good. I have the claw marks on my arm from three births to prove it.” Indigo brushed a strand of hair from Charlotte’s face. She seemed more upset than he expected, yet his worth seemed dubious. The topic required changing. “Last night was interesting.”
“I’ve been called worse, but I do like the notion of interesting. They used to call me that in fashion mags. The things they say when we are young.”
Indigo laughed. “Like you’re so old now.”
“Not as old as you,” she gripped him tighter, “but just as eager.”
“Still looking for that next moment, eh Charlotte?”
“No, I found it last night, and the night before. Have you got a flight for tomorrow?”
“Hardly, I’ll have to find a hotspot for that, so a hotel room is my first objective.”
“Always so organized and proper. There is an alternative. You can always stay on my boat. I do have wi-fi. The forecast is for a cloudless sky and calm seas, but you can rock my yacht if you like.” Charlotte leant in closer and whispered in Indigo’s ear. “Would you fancy one more night with me, before I send you back to your family with something more to write about?”
“I’ve never slept on a yacht.”
“Who said you will tonight?”
Indigo felt Charlotte’s fingers tugging at belt loops on his jeans. He didn’t fight them. The exit to the airport blurred into the taxi ride, which morphed into the Manly Marina of his dreams; peaceful, unpopulated and littered with the shells of million dollar boats.
“Which one’s yours, Charlotte?”
A hundred boats or more swayed against their moorings. Indigo wasn’t even sure if they were all named in that fashion. He didn’t know the difference between a boat or yacht or a ship.
“The one at the very end. Rented, of course. It’s a four berth. Suitable for ocean voyages, yet it can be sailed solo.”
“When did you get to be such an expert, Charlotte?”
“I spent a few summers with friends off the Florida Keys. I’m a sponge. I bet I could quote your books back at you.”
“That’d be interesting. I don’t remember what I write most of the time. The edit process is always full of surprises for me.”
“Surprised how poetic you are?”
Indigo shook his head and lowered it to conceal a smile. “Yeah, that must be it.”
“And nobody knows what a talent you have? That’s such a waste.” Charlotte took him by the hands. “New Year’s resolution — you will be published — and I’ll remember this night and your thoughts, to frame my life around them.”
Indigo felt the same tug on his jeans, but Charlotte had already skipped off along the mooring pontoon. Her cabin awaited them. Guilt would sober him in the morning.
* * *
A subtle shift in the early morning breeze woke Indigo from a peaceful slumber. The clock glowed 3:33… at least he’d had two hours sleep.
To his surprise, Charlotte’s hair had not irritated his nose, as his wife’s always did. Charlotte’s heartbeat barely perceptible against his palm, he felt the rise and fall of her chest more keenly. They could have been on an ocean becalmed somewhere in the South Pacific.
They could have been… except for the electric shock that radiated out from the small of Indigo’s back. The tremors that consumed his limbs woke Charlotte with a start.
He heard her scream.
There was a light, but the sheet Charlotte threw over his head in her panic shrouded it. Indigo rolled off the cabin’s berth. His characters swirling about a fading mind, his head collided with the bulkhead.