Preparations for a funeral ignites tension in a small seaside town.
‘It’s perfect,’ said Maggie as she lay in the casket.
Harold Barnes offered his hand. ‘It’s a shame he never got to see it,’ Maggie continued as she climbed free of the coffin. Being the second-born of twins, Maggie was the approximate height and weight of her brother, and Barnes had fashioned the casket exactly to her measurements. He indicated a passage inscribed in the underside of the lid: ‘Hold to the now, the here, through which all future plunges to the past.’ Maggie placed a dry kiss on Barnes’ cheek.
‘Joyce was his favourite,’ she said, tracing the lettering with her fingers. ‘And what a joy it is to see things come to a close,’ she added as they settled the remainder of the fee.
They embraced a final time, Maggie’s eyes watering as she rushed into the fawn morning light, the metallic ring of the street suddenly upon her. Barnes watched her go and then shuttered the blinds, turned the sign on the door and went to the back room where a shaft of blunt sunlight shot through a small window, illuminating a gurney in the room’s middle. There, by way of a small incision below the navel, the remaining earthly fluids drained from the body of Eddie Moon.
Two men wait in the shallows of a new country, unable to cross the last yards to shore.
The rigger looked along the coast. A single bone-white tree stuck out against the dry brush marking the escarpment, its featureless limbs needling upwards like a hand signalling stop or hello – he couldn’t tell which. An unremarkable coastline, he thought. Dry, aching sand interrupted by confusions of limestone rock and flotsam. ‘It looks empty,’ he said, eyes fixed on the leafless tree. The tug of the rope brought him back into the water. ‘We’re close now,’ he said, easing two fingers between the rope and his ringbarked flesh. ‘We don’t need the crate.’
‘Just a bit further,’ said the other, as he touched the pulpy mess of his eyes. ‘Anyway, I’m not sure I would know which direction to swim in.’
The rigger glanced again at the man’s face. ‘It’s not so bad,’ he said. He could smell the ripening stink of diesel on their skin. ‘Your eyes, I mean.’
‘Are you a doctor?’
‘No.’ The rigger looked at his shrivelled hands.
When a shopping centre is dying, its patronage slipping away, its referred to as a greyfield.
At this point annual sales have slumped below $200 a square metre. The centre slowly hollows, tenants are given notice and town planners swoop with schedules for demolition. The centre will stay open until a third of the tenants find other lodgings. The empty shops close their roller-doors and the arcades shut down in dark rows, one by one. The centre is sealed, locks are placed on the doors and the car park buckles at the edges, weeds pushing up the bitumen in anticipation.
This will happen to one in every four shopping centres. Shopping centres die in stages: like retail lepers, they lose limbs. Anchors are what keep them alive. They are the heart – a popular franchise, supermarket or department store that directs traffic past the smaller stores. Anchors such as food halls and cinema complexes are placed at the end of long stretches of glazed windows. The industry standard states that the maximum distance shoppers are prepared to walk between anchors is three hundred metres. This is called anchor drag.
A widower’s isolation is shattered when a bungled robbery leaves a dying visitor on her back doorstep.
Helen closed the windows, snapped the latches shut, drew the curtains together. She shuffled to the front room and felt the lock, shoved the bolts home and hung the chain stud across the door. In her bedroom she peered into the wardrobe and then shut it tight and got to her knees to check under the bed. She turned the light off and lay down, closed her eyes but stayed wide awake, listening to the house shift.
‘HELEN?’ Ben poked his finger through the letter slot. It was dark inside and the shaft of sunlight he let loose ignited a plane of dust specks. ‘Helen,’ he called again. ‘Your groceries.’ He let the slot fall shut and knelt down, picking at a wild oat that had made its way up between the veranda floorboards. A pair of magpies chortled to each other on the front lawn, which was crisp and brown from neglect.