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suburbia-1The FOR SALE sign on the front lawn of the house two doors down made Clara halt her Prius in the middle of the street. The house was identical to hers, except that it was painted a silvery grey and had a wooden garage door rather than a metal one. For the moment, it was owned by a young couple, Jason and Molly – high school sweethearts, Clara had heard.

Sometimes, late at night, she’d also heard them shouting, although never for more than a minute or two. Then the front door would slam, and if Clara peeked out her bedroom window she’d see Jason jogging along the footpath, skin shimmering as he passed beneath a streetlight and a CCTV camera. Her sympathies galloped along with him; her body returned to bed, where her husband Peter lay snoring.

Molly was standing on the porch this morning, holding a cup of coffee, or tea, with both hands. Achingly sad and pretend-happy, she was the kind of person who, under different circumstances, Clara may have made an effort to befriend. Molly blew at the steam rising from her cup, frowned at Clara, and trudged back into the house.

Without realising it, Clara had unclipped her seatbelt. In the passenger seat, her daughter Dani barely glanced up from the game of Ninja Fruit she was playing on her phone.

‘Why’d we stop?’ she asked.

‘I want to ask Molly something.’

‘I’ll be late for schoo-ool.’

A security guard’s four-wheel drive rounded the corner, and Clara wondered whether they – the guards – had gleaned the intricacies of her private life from the comings and goings they observed on their monitors. Abashed, she buckled her seatbelt and drove on, through the leafy avenues of the gated community, through the raised boom barrier, through the workers’ cottages of north-west Sydney, to the private school that Dani attended thanks to Peter’s job in management consultancy – a job for which Clara was equally qualified, if not equally experienced.

‘See ya,’ Dani said, hopping out of the car.

‘Love you.’

Clara’s words ricocheted off the door and she sat in the drop-off zone watching her daughter walk away from her. Dani sauntered up the steps towards the school gates.

The next year, she would saunter into high school, and teendom, and perhaps the act of walking away would be complete. Even as Clara stared, Dani hitched up her skirt so that the bottom hem was halfway up her thigh. How could Clara protect her from a world of sex and screens and endless facsimile images? She couldn’t even protect herself.

*

That afternoon, Clara rang Molly’s doorbell. There was no answer. She rang again and stepped back onto the garden path. In every window of the house, the curtains were drawn. The ones in the master bedroom on the second storey swished, betraying movement within. Above that, the sun provided an aureole to the roof, which made Clara squint with derision and return to the shade.

The door opened and Molly appeared on the threshold. She was wearing a bathrobe. Her chest rose and fell, as if she’d sprinted straight from the shower. It took a moment for Clara to collect her thoughts.

‘You’re moving,’ she blurted, in lieu of a greeting.

Molly seemed confused and Clara gestured towards the FOR SALE sign.

‘Ah,’ Molly replied. ‘We’ll be out of your hair by the end of the week.’

‘You have a new place? Already?’

‘Settlement’s Thursday. This place is a mess. We’re in the middle of packing.’

Molly’s hand fidgeted at the door and Clara noticed the droplets of water, like sweat or morning dew, on her jugular notch. She was striking, Clara thought, not beautiful but sensual in a saturnine way, as if she was resigned to having desires – to being desired.

Yet perhaps Clara only thought that because she’d seen Molly’s body in lubricious detail, on Peter’s phone, which she’d snooped through while he was passed out with influenza the previous summer. She could picture Molly’s pink and puffy nipples, her breasts which were not quite symmetrical. She could conjure a mirrored image of Molly’s hairless genitalia.

‘Jason says he feels trapped here,’ Molly added. ‘Like he’s going blind. But you know what that’s like.’

Clara nodded, although not in agreement. From Jason’s nocturnal jogging, she’d presumed that he knew whatever there was to know about their spouses’ transgressions. On occasion, she’d been tempted to run out and ask him why he hadn’t left Molly, why he hadn’t slugged Peter in the jaw. But questions like that could’ve been reciprocated; they could’ve forced everything out into the open.

‘You need permission from the management committee to put up a FOR SALE sign,’ she said.

‘Aren’t you on the committee?’

‘I am. You don’t need permission to leave the estate – that’s not what I’m saying. Just to put up the sign.’

Molly jutted her chin out.

‘We got permission at the last committee meeting. You weren’t there?’

Her intonation suggested that this was a question, but Clara knew that it wasn’t. She hadn’t been at the last general meeting, let alone the management committee meeting. She no longer volunteered for canteen duty at Dani’s school. She’d even skipped the protest calling for action on climate change. Since she’d seen Molly naked, she hadn’t been present enough anywhere to truly commit herself to a cause.

Since she’d seen Molly naked, she hadn’t been present enough anywhere to truly commit herself to a cause.

Within the month, the new owners – or at least one of them – arrived. Clara listened to the whimper of a truck’s brakes and the hum of a quieter vehicle coming to a halt. She heard the declaratory snap of the removalists’ voices and the clang of the truck’s ramp hitting the asphalt.

She went and unlocked her mailbox, sifting through letters that held no interest to her whatsoever. Tearing open an envelope, she watched two removalists lug an armoire from the truck and past the gunmetal sedan that was parked in the driveway.

A man in his sixties emerged from the house. At first, Clara registered a shock of ginger hair on his head, before she realized that he was wearing an orange turban. He had a greying beard, gold bangles and sweat patches that became apparent on his shirt when he gesticulated to the removalists.

‘It will not fit through the door,’ he said.

The removalists rested the armoire on the lawn and the older one leapt onto the porch.

‘If we tip it on its side, it’ll fit,’ he argued.

‘It will not fit, believe me,’ the man in the turban insisted. ‘If you take it around the back, it will all be easy.’

A breeze whiffled Clara’s blouse and she watched the older removalist wipe his nose; he might have been sneering behind his hand. The man in the turban stepped off the porch and toddled towards the armoire. Then he saw Clara by her mailbox. She felt as if she’d been caught eavesdropping, but he didn’t seem to mind.

‘Hello, Madame,’ he called, approaching her along the footpath. ‘My name is Vichar Singh.’

Up close, his accent sounded pompous, Clara thought, and his belly bulged more than she’d anticipated. He offered his hand over her front fence and she shook it.

‘My name’s Clara. Welcome to Wattle Gardens.’

‘And what a lovely place it is.’

‘It is, isn’t it?’ she agreed, crinkling her nose. ‘Your family’s going to love it here.’

‘No, no; no family.’ He held up his hands as if in surrender. ‘These days, it’s only my wife Achal and I. Our son no longer lives with us.’

Clara faked a smile. ‘Listen,’ she said, conspiratorially. ‘I’m on the management committee, so if you need anything, let me know.’

‘Very kind.’

‘And if you want a proper tour of the estate, I can give you one of those as well.’

They turned towards his house, just as the removalists were attempting to spirit the armoire through the front door. It slammed against the lintel, and the resulting concussion was loud enough to suggest that they’d caused some damage.

‘Shit,’ the older removalist exclaimed.

‘I might take you up on that offer, Clara,’ Vichar said, backing away. ‘Right now, I have to avert further disaster.’

Unexpectedly nimble, he ran along the footpath to his new house.

*

To Clara’s surprise, Vichar took her up on her offer of a walking tour of the estate. They lingered by the tennis courts, where a blonde couple – Renée and John – knocked the ball back and forth. Renée waved at Clara, threw a perplexed glance at Vichar, and hit a service return for a looping winner.

‘Bravo, Madame,’ Vichar cheered.

Renée blocked her next backhand into the net, and Clara decided it was time to move on.

‘Do you play tennis?’ she asked.

‘I used to be a youth champion of squash,’ Vichar replied. ‘Mind you, I have not played the game in this country.’

‘Why not?’

‘Various reasons: my family, my tenure at the university, the loss of my svelte figure.’

They strolled through a children’s playground, which was empty, and he seemed amused by his own turn of phrase. Clara gripped a chain link fence that marked the boundary of the estate. On the other side was a golf course. A bunker of brushed and bleached sand lay nearby. The fairway was an iridescent green and, in the distance, a tiny flag held fast against the wind.

‘Maybe golf is more your speed these days?’ Clara suggested.

She eyed his turban and the security camera, perched like a crow on the lamppost above them. She avoided looking directly into it; Vichar did not.

‘How many people live in Wattle Gardens?’ he asked.

‘About seven hundred. Why?’

‘For the knowledge.’

He said this as if it was the obvious answer, which reminded Clara of the emphatic way Peter often addressed her questions. Perhaps that was why she couldn’t bring herself to ask about what she’d found on his phone. The answer to their problem was obvious, and if he gave it to her, she wasn’t sure what she would do.

The answer to their problem was obvious, and if he gave it to her, she wasn’t sure what she would do.

Vichar had ambled on ahead, but she caught up to him quickly enough.

‘What is that building over there?’ he asked.

He pointed a bulbous finger at a structure a few hundred feet away.

‘That’s the town hall,’ she said. ‘It’s going to be our last stop.’

‘It looks very much like a church,’ he replied.

The building’s sides were composed of horizontal white slats. Its gambrel roof was interrupted by a tower with three black-and-brass clock faces and a bell that was fixed in place and could never be rung. Clara had always thought of it as a barn with a belfry; now, that description sounded asinine – inarticulate at the very least. Of course, she realised, what it looked like was a church.

*

At the end of the tour, Vichar hunched to unlock his front door. Clara watched the fat around his shoulder blades shift apart, as if he was smuggling two cuts of meat beneath his shirt. He rose and clucked his tongue at the lintel, which had been splintered by the removalists.

‘You see what mischief they bring.’

He shook his head jovially and, as he pushed the door open, the contrast with Molly could not have been starker: where Molly had stood there with her sensual and showered figure filling the space left by the ajar door, Vichar swept out an arm to invite Clara in. She looked down as her feet passed over the threshold. He shut the door and shuffled out of his shoes.

‘This is the living room,’ he said, ‘and over there is the accomplice to the mischief.’

The armoire was against the wall, while a set of upholstered sofas formed a rectangle around a coffee table. Clara removed her own shoes.

‘You don’t have a television?’ she asked.

‘Achal and I do not partake,’ he replied. ‘A former colleague of mine is always telling us to get this Netflix business. Achal is opposed, but I have a feeling that I may yield.’ His voice echoed as he made his way to the capacious kitchen. ‘It would be nice to do something witless with my retirement.’

Following him into the kitchen, Clara saw that it was the same as hers – except shinier, less cluttered. She imagined Molly gliding through the space, tiptoeing around the island bench, trailing her polished nails over the cool marble surface, a glass of red wine in hand, perhaps, and sweat glistening behind her knees. She pictured Peter, transfixed, swirling his glass of wine and taking a little sip.

Vichar was staring at her, and Clara wondered what expression she had on her face.

‘I’m doing a poor job of hosting, aren’t I?’ he suggested.

‘You’re doing a fine job. It’s just – can I use your bathroom?’

‘Of course you may.’ He pointed at the ceiling and added, hesitantly, ‘Although, you should probably use the one in the bedroom.’

‘I don’t want to intrude on your personal space,’ Clara said.

Vichar waved his hand dismissively and opened the fridge.

‘Achal and I are too old to have secrets. Besides, while you’re up there, it will give me a chance to fix you a cold mint lassi.’

When Clara reached the top of the stairs, she breathed out until her ribs felt as if they were about to crack. She took a few paces towards a study that was filled with piles of books, and she entered the master bedroom, in which there was a bed in a baroque frame, two French provincial nightstands, and an unhung painting that had turned its back on the room.

She got the sensation that she was being watched, and she swivelled round and peered at herself in the mirrored wardrobe. The woman looking back at her seemed windswept and frangible: here was the mirror in which Molly had snapped the nude photograph of herself. Clara stepped to the left: here was the exact spot on which Molly had stood. Had Peter looked into this mirror? Had they fucked in this room, her husband and her neighbour, with the curtains drawn and the lights down low?

‘Clara?’

Vichar was in the hallway, holding two tall, milky glasses in his hands. ‘Are you all right?’ he asked.

‘I’m fine,’ Clara said, smiling. ‘Why do you ask?’

‘Because you’re crying.’ He almost whispered this, as if it was an impolite thing to observe about a guest. But it was true, Clara realised, tasting a teardrop that nicked the edge of her lips.

‘I’m really sorry,’ she said.

‘No need to apologise,’ Vichar replied. ‘I understand what it’s like to carry painful memories around.’

He clinked the glasses together and handed one to her.

*

Lying in bed that evening, Clara told Peter that she’d found Vichar arrogant and, at the same time, sleazy. She didn’t resist as Peter lowered one strap of her nightgown, exposed her nipple, and began to nuzzle it. Her nails combed over the fine hair on the back of his neck.

In a timorous voice she asked, ‘What would you have done if he’d tried to sleep with me?’

Peter’s hands began to tremble. He jerked his head up. The intensity of his glare seemed to hold her in place.

‘What the fuck is wrong with you?’

He waited for her to respond, as if he’d posed a question to which she could actually respond. She felt a tremor in the mattress – his whole body was shaking now.

‘You’re so fucking mopey,’ he said. ‘You’re just sad, all the time. You’re like a sad, unfuckable ghost that haunts this house.’ He slowed his breathing, let out a sigh. ‘Maybe you should see someone,’ he suggested.

She sat up, slightly.

‘You don’t need to see someone if you know why you’re sad,’ she murmured.

‘You don’t need to see someone if you know why you’re sad,’ she murmured.

He groaned and stalked off to the bathroom. She pulled the strap of her nightgown up onto her shoulder. Her throat felt tight, as if a stranger’s hand had been pressing against her hyoid.

*

Even though she’d commenced high school and insisted upon catching the train, Dani was not an entirely lost cause to Clara. One Saturday, while Peter was playing golf, the two of them attended a protest against the offshore detention of refugees. They marched among the crowd and Dani threw herself headlong into the chants, taking pleasure at being able to scream on a city street without censure, enjoying the thrill of being part of a collective voice. Occasionally, Dani would nudge Clara, who might join in for a round or two but who generally found the act of chanting undignified.

The protest came to an end in the tree-lined expanse of Hyde Park, where a woman with a loudhailer thanked people for coming and said that it saddened her to know that future generations of Australians would once again have something for which to apologise. On that note, the crowd broke up into groups and pairs and individuals, and dispersed anonymously.

Clara and Dani traipsed through the park, along a paved walkway, towards the city centre. Her feet aching, Clara suggested that they go to a cafe for lunch.

‘Are Vichar and Achal refugees?’ Dani asked.

‘What do you mean?’

They came to a set of traffic lights in front of the sandstone entrance to St James station; its tunnel gave off a green glow that seemed threatening to Clara, even in the daytime. She pushed the button to cross the road.

‘Vichar said they left India because it was no good for Sikhs there,’ Dani said.

‘How can India be no good for Sikhs?’

Dani made a noise that had the rhythm of the words I don’t know, before she lost interest in the conversation and took out her phone.

‘When did you talk to Vichar?’ Clara asked.

Dani shrugged. The lights changed and they wandered across the road.

‘When did you talk to Vichar?’

Dani pursed her lips and didn’t stop prodding at her phone.

‘When, Dani?’ Clara persisted.

‘After school,’ Dani replied, tersely. ‘He’s always on his front lawn when I’m walking home.’

Clara came to a halt outside the cafe, and had to grab Dani’s forearm to let her know they’d arrived. A uniformed waiter showed them to their table, which was bedecked with a white tablecloth, a breadbasket, and a bowl of olives. When he asked what they’d been up to for the day, Clara told him they’d been out shopping.

*

The following Monday, during a downpour, Clara made sure she was by her mailbox when Dani was due to arrive home from school. Hunched beneath a black umbrella, Clara kept an eye on Vichar’s house, where there was no movement except for the rain. She wasn’t sure whether he was home. Yet no sooner had Dani appeared at the end of the street – sodden, with her schoolbag on her head as a defence against the deluge – than Clara noticed that Vichar had emerged onto his porch. He squinted in Dani’s direction, glimpsed Clara, and headed back inside.

His front door remained open, and Clara thought she saw his shadow dancing upon it, as if he was frantically moving about just out of sight. Wielding a golf umbrella like a lance, he re-emerged and waved amiably at her. He stepped off the porch and opened his umbrella, then he shuffled towards the footpath and intercepted Dani a little farther down the street.

Over the thrum of the rain, Clara couldn’t hear their interaction. She could only witness the familiar way in which her daughter greeted Vichar. The way in which, without hesitation, she handed over her schoolbag and sidled beneath his umbrella, and chatted with him while he accompanied her to where Clara was waiting.

‘Your daughter, Madame,’ Vichar announced.

He was bone dry; Dani was soaking wet. Her school blazer was discoloured and her white shirt pasted to her skin.

‘Go inside,’ Clara said.

Vichar passed the schoolbag back to Dani. He shaped his hand as if he were holding a teacup and, without actually touching her, mimicked the act of lifting her chin.

‘Thanks, Vichar,’ Dani said.

‘You are most welcome.’

She squealed as she sprinted to the house, and Clara continued to watch Vichar, his face flushed with what looked like pride. He cleared his throat to speak but, before a conversation could break out, Clara wheeled around and walked away.

Once the rain eased, she dragged Dani into the Prius, drove to the exit of Wattle Gardens, and parked near the boom barrier.

‘Can I wait here?’ Dani asked.

Clara locked her daughter in the car and approached the security booth, where a guard, wearing a black baseball cap, was writing longhand on a sheet in a folder. The peak of his cap shielded much of his face and Clara could only make out his Vandyke beard. His shoes were damp; a baton was clipped to his belt.

She didn’t want to startle him. As he scrawled, she occupied herself with the images that came up on the monitors: a four-wheel drive, headlights like lanterns, reversing into a garage; a peripheral view of the golf course’s bunkers, sand dimpled by the rainfall; a man in compression tights pushing a pram while a Scottish terrier trotted on ahead.

‘G’day,’ the guard grunted.

Without raising his head, he finished what he was writing, shut the folder, and slid it onto a low shelf.

‘I don’t know if you know who I am,’ Clara said. ‘I’m on the management committee for the estate?’

‘I know who you are,’ he replied. ‘I see you round. Your husband. Your daughter. I see you when you drive in and out, and also…’ With his forefinger, he tapped one of the monitors. It dinged, as if it could shatter at any moment and spill all of its confidences.

‘Do those things record?’ she asked.

‘A week’s footage is stored on the hard drive. After that, it gets erased.’

‘Permanently erased?’

He opened another folder and licked his thumb, upon which Clara could see the black whorls of his fingerprint.

‘Permanent as a bad tattoo,’ he replied, deadpan. ‘Unless we burn it to disk.’

‘Could you burn something for me?’ she asked.

She stepped inside the security booth and folded her arms.

*

Three days later, in exchange for fifty dollars, the security guard handed Clara an unlabelled white disk. She shut her front door, drew her curtains, and slipped the disk into her DVD player. The television glimmered and she knelt before it.

The video began to play – a date-stamped, stippled image of a section of the street, including her house and Vichar’s. And there Vichar was, the previous Wednesday, watering a flowerbed in his garden. As Dani walked by, he gave her a cheerful wave.

On Thursday, he was reading a book on his front steps, continually glancing up, and going out of his way to exchange a few words with Dani. On Friday, he waited, drumming on the roof of his mailbox, and when Dani appeared he collected his mail, as if he was an actor and she was his cue. He made small talk with her while he sifted through some catalogues.

The screen went dark before it glowed again. The date-stamp on the video said it was Monday, and Clara was stunned to find herself in the frame: she was standing beneath a black umbrella, not realising that she could’ve brought Dani in from the rain herself. Instead, Vichar invited Dani beneath his golf umbrella.

Clara fast-forwarded.

It was drizzling again on Tuesday and, holding her own umbrella, Dani cantered along the footpath, all the way home, with Vichar nowhere to be seen. This confounded Clara. He must have been there, she thought. She rewound the video.

On a second viewing, she noticed Dani skip playfully over a puddle. She scoured the screen and saw a faint glint in Vichar’s bedroom window. She rewound again, paused the video. With her brow right up against the television, she felt the static dance like musical notes along the staff of her wrinkles. The glint, she decided, must have been coming off Vichar’s bangles – or perhaps off his teeth.

The glint, she decided, must have been coming off Vichar’s bangles – or perhaps off his teeth.

Clara planned to get a second opinion from Peter, but he came home late after a gym session, stripped off, and headed straight for the shower. In her pyjamas, she sidestepped the pile of his clothes by the bed. She walked to the bathroom’s edge and watched her husband gently pinch his nose and empty the snot from his nostrils. He pinched his penis in much the same way and began to urinate.

Behind her, chimes sounded from the crotch of his gym shorts. She returned to the bedroom and plucked out his phone. The dewy screen was lit up with a notification about a Snapchat message. Clara winced. She entered his passcode and opened the app.

A photograph popped up straight away: a selfie of a naked woman – brunette, button-nosed, small-breasted. She had an olive complexion and pubic hair. Other than the fact that she was girl-next-door pretty, and youngish, she was completely different to Molly.

Clara let the screen fade to black. She could hear water swilling around the drain; the shower was no longer running. Before Peter emerged, she slid the phone back into the folds of his shorts and exited the bedroom.

Her throat was tight again. She’d thought it was over, but now she thought it would never be over, that maybe Jason was onto something with his night-time dogtrots, that if you loved someone, if you needed them, you had to find a way to overlook all of these painful little indiscretions – but, did they have to be rendered so explicitly?

*

‘How is it that I can help?’ Vichar asked.

The sun was in the meridian, and there was something of the gallows in the way he abandoned his shoes by Clara’s front door.

‘Have a seat,’ she said.

She positioned herself behind the sofa and switched on the television. Vichar supported the weight of his belly with his hand as he sat down.

‘What will we be watching?’

Clara aimed a remote at the DVD player, which whirred and hoisted the CCTV footage onto the television. As the video began to play, she saw how upright Vichar grew, with his palms on his knees, as if the screen was taking his photograph – as if it was watching him rather than the other way around.

‘What is this?’ he whispered.

Those were the only words he spoke as the video played through to its end. Then it restarted. On the screen, Vichar watered his flowerbed; on the sofa, he grimaced at Clara.

‘Why have you shown this to me?’

‘I thought that would be obvious.’

He rubbed the bone behind his earlobe, slipped his fingers beneath his turban and scratched.

‘There is nothing obvious to see.’

Clara went and stood beside the television. The video’s mundane images grew more sinister through repetition, like an installation at an art gallery.

‘What is it you want?’ Vichar asked.

‘I want you to leave,’ she said. ‘I want you to sell your house and leave Wattle Gardens.’

‘But we have only just arrived.’

‘We don’t want you here.’

The video’s mundane images grew more sinister through repetition, like an installation at an art gallery.

Vichar clucked his tongue and locked his ankles, as if he was bracing himself.

‘You don’t see me as a danger,’ he suggested.

‘Didn’t you watch the video?’

‘You did, and afterwards you invited me into your house. Now, would you do that with a dangerous man?’

‘Are you threatening me?’ Clara asked, though she knew that he was not.

He held up his hands, just as he had the first time they’d met.

‘I’m merely suggesting,’ he said, ‘that perhaps there is something more going on here.’

Clara took in his orange turban, his sympathetic expression, the grey thatch of his beard. Peter made remarks like that whenever she and he were wading into an argument, as if he thought he understood her better than she did herself.

‘I haven’t said anything about what happened in my house,’ Vichar murmured.

She pictured the mirror in his bedroom, the painting that had refused to look at her. On the television screen, she saw herself hunched beneath her umbrella, lonesome in the rain.

‘You think I care about that?’ she asked.

‘I think you might care a great deal.’

‘That’s really condescending.’

‘It is,’ he conceded. ‘And I apologise.’ Then he whistled through his teeth and added, ‘Are you sure this isn’t about –?’

She found him gesturing towards the turban on his head, and was enraged by the implication.

‘Don’t you dare try and make this about race,’ she said. ‘This is not about race. You know where I was when I heard that you’d been grooming my daughter? I was at a –’

She stopped mid-sentence: with unnerving calm, Vichar had begun to unravel his turban.

‘What are you doing?’

‘I want to show you something.’

He continued unravelling the turban, several feet of fabric, and removed his black cap too, so that his head was bare. Clara covered her mouth. Where she’d expected full, flowing hair, Vichar was mostly bald, with wispy white tendrils matted to his scalp or standing on end like spun sugar.

‘I don’t understand,’ she said.

‘I am not a religious man,’ he confessed. ‘I recommenced wearing a turban when my mother died and I lost all my hair. It may be that I am still mourning; it may simply be that I am vain.’

‘Why are you telling me this?’

‘Now you know my only secret,’ he replied.

Yet as he sat there, imploring her to judge him, or to pity him, he maintained the same sympathetic expression on his face – as if, in fact, he pitied her – and Clara considered how he appeared haughty, even in his attempt at humility.

‘I’m trying my best to give you a decent way out,’ she said.

‘A decent way out of what?’

Clara could hear defiance creeping into his voice. She pinched the bridge of her nose and shut her eyes.

‘Just put your house up for sale, Vichar,’ she sighed.

‘And what will you do if I refuse?’

She opened her eyes, so he could see that she was being serious.

‘I’ll take this video and show it to everyone at the next general meeting.’

He pondered this for a while, and Clara thought that he could have been imagining how the scene might play out. Perhaps he was sharpening his rhetoric, or considering the defence he might mount. It wouldn’t matter, she thought. There was no straw poll he could win, no scenario she could envision that ended with him leading a comfortable life in Wattle Gardens.

‘Where is it held, this general meeting?’ he asked.

‘In the church,’ she said.

Her reply seemed to deflate him at last, and she traced his gaze back to the television. Together, they watched Dani gambolling through the drizzle beneath her umbrella – and, try as she might, Clara could not spy any glint or glimmer in Vichar’s bedroom window. It was possible, she reflected, that he was not there at all.