Chapter 10

Written by: Suraya Dewing

Passing Storms

The day matched Angelica's mood as her aging rusty Escort grumbled up the Harbour Bridge puffing black smoke out of the deteriorating exhaust. Stephen sat in the passenger’s seat and looked sulkily out of the window at the grey, drizzling rain.

Between them, the atmosphere was heavy with apology. However, Angelica was doggedly determined not to tell him she was sorry she could no longer provide him with a place to live.

When they got to the top of the Harbour Bridge, Stephen pointed to the Waitemata Harbour with its white crested swells and bobbing yachts. A burst of surly energy lifted Stephen out of his morose torpor.

“See those boats down there?” He didn't wait for her to answer. “Miranda's organising for me to join a club for crippled sailors.”

He watched her face for signs of guilt. She kept her features tightly controlled, determined not to reveal how her stomach churned.

“That sounds great,” she said, trying to sound upbeat.

“Yes, I quite like the idea of being a crippled sailor,” he muttered, barely loud enough for her to hear.

She stoically ignored him, fixing her eyes on the road ahead.

When they arrived at Miranda’s, she found not a house as she expected but a large complex with several dormitories. A man bouncing on blades ducked into the main building from a detached unit nearby, his head bent down against the rain.

“I thought you were going to be flatting with Miranda,” Angelica observed, surprise lifting in her voice.

“No, I’ll have company.” Again he watched her for a reaction. “It’s like an old people’s home, only for cripples.”

Just as Angelica was about to say, ‘Let’s forget about this,’ the double wooden doors flew open and a fresh young Miranda hopped out to greet him, arms out wide and smiling. Stephen remained resolutely in the car.

“Come on Stephen, I’ve got someone I’d like you to meet.

“What? Another cripple?”

Miranda remained up-beat. “No, he’s captain of our sailing team.”

He put the hood of his sweatshirt up and, crestfallen, lowered himself into his waiting wheelchair. The rain pattered at them as Angelica an, pushing Stephen and the wheelchair inside.

When she returned to the car, Angelica sat behind the wheel and stared at the rain sliding down her windscreen. As if mimicking it, she was surprised by a surge of regret and tears sliding down her cheeks.

***

Six months later.

Although it was winter, the sun sent shafts of bright light through the leaves of the Morton Bay Fig trees. Angelica had just been at University preparing for a research trip to New Guinea and an excited smile filled her face.

A few days earlier she visited Stephen and his ebullient mood was infectious. The memory made her chuckle and she found herself laughing afresh over his tales of learning to sail.

"Forget about trying to stay dry," he chuckled. "If you don't fall in, it comes and gets you anyway." A young woman with short curling black hair sat beside him and laughed. Realising that Angelica’s curious eyes were upon her, Stephen put his arm around her shoulders and simply said, "This is Alison."

Angelica reached out to shake Alison's hand then hastily withdrew it, trying desperately not to show how embarrassed she was at realising Alison's arm finished just below the elbow. "Don't worry," she chirped. "It's my party trick."

Unexpected laughter filled the comfortable communal lounge room.

“She’s a fantastic sailor too.” Stephen drew her to him and stroked her cheek with his thumb. “We've been selected to go to Rio with the paralympic team.” He drew Alison closer and their excited eyes met.

The old man was sitting on the root of the Morton Bay Fig tree as she crossed the park. He sat with his knobbly hands on the knee patches of his grey canvas trousers.

She bounced up and took a seat beside him.

“You look like you’ve had a good day,” he said.

"Every day is great.” She leaned forward, holding up a finger. “Do you know what I’ve also realised?”

He encouraged her with a brief nod. “I blamed Stephen for trapping me. But I did that to myself.”

He smiled knowingly.