NWMN Short Story Competition Winner

‘The Suitcase’ By Julie Bateman

The Suitcase

 

The V-Line bus pulls into Genoa creating a dusty arc in front of the Berlin Café. The picture Bec has in her head of romantic little houses on sunny hills and people sitting at cafe tables in large piazzas laughing and drinking coffee is now replaced by Genoa Victoria where the cafe is no longer a cafe and the motel looks creepy. Hey Bec, want a night in Psycho-Town? Chas is back.

Bec climbs down from the bus, collects her purple suitcase which seems heavier than she remembers and wheels it over to the little local bus which will take her down the winding road to the coast. A very old man sitting in the front seat nods at her and she smiles back. She sits down opposite a man with a tattoo on his leg. She can’t make out if it’s a seahorse or a mermaid. In his shorts and singlet he looks ready for the beach whereas she feels out of place on this unseasonably warm day in jeans and black jacket but she figures nobody will notice anyway. She looks at him to say hello but he looks away and takes a book out of his backpack. She tries to see what he’s reading. She thinks a book can tell you a lot about someone. The old homeless man who sleeps at the bus stop near her house in Melbourne uses a bible as a pillow.

The bus passes Mangans Lake and after the Gipsy Point turn-off the road becomes narrow and winding. As the bus rattles round hairpin bends Bec clings onto the seat in front. Don’t panic love, he knows this road like the back of his hand. The bush thickens, tree ferns fill the space below tall straight gums and the single notes of bellbirds float through the open windows of the bus.

Finally, the last straight stretch into the township opens up. It’s Easter and Bec dreads the town’s usual tiny population being swollen with campers and fishermen. As the bus drives past the pub in the main street the tattooed man puts his head out the window and shouts hey mate, over here to a guy in a singlet carrying a slab of beer on his shoulder. She can now see the book title and it’s about the Iraq war.

Bec asks the driver to drop her off at the caravan park. She can tell Ron the park manager is glad it’s busy so he only has to mumble a brief sorry about your loss. She’s sweating as she pulls her suitcase over to the same cabin Chas always booked because of the five minute walk to the beach track. Inside it’s warm and stuffy and she slides open all the little windows. She takes off her jacket and shoes and lies on the bed. She closes her eyes and listens to the kids playing outside, the voices of other campers, the 4×4’s driving past pulling boats the size of small houses. When she wakes up the light in the cabin has faded and her stomach reminds her she hasn’t eaten since she bought a dry sausage roll and cappuccino in Cann River.

Bec rolls off the bed, puts on her shoes and jacket and sets out to find a meal in town. The front windows of the pub are open to the street and guys in singlets and caps lean out, beers in hand, probably discussing the size of their boats and the fish they’ve caught. It’s Friday, cheap ‘Pot and Parma’ night so that’s what she orders. Good girl, watching your pennies. She sits at a table for two looking out onto the beer garden. A guy in shorts with a ponytail and sunglasses is playing guitar and singing Van Morrison accompanied by a sad looking guy on drums. The pub gradually fills up with large extended families and innumerable children fight over seats then settle into mute screen-hypnosis. A young couple walk towards her table and for a moment she wonders if they have even seen her and are going to sit on her. But the young guy puts his large hand on the girl’s singletted back and nudges her towards the beer garden.

When Bec’s meal finally arrives she eats a couple of mouthfuls but she no longer feels hungry. Loud voices, the numerous TVs tuned into prime-time news and her overheated body force her to gulp down her beer and leave. She hurries back to the campsite revelling in the cooling night air, a full moon and an unpolluted sky thick with stars.

Bec lifts her bag onto the bed and unzips it to get out her pyjamas. It takes a few seconds for her to realise that nothing in it looks familiar. An exotic perfume is wafting out of expensive looking clothes of vibrant colours so unlike her K-Mart labels they take her breath away. She stands there with her hand over her mouth. She closes the lid firmly and sits down on the bed. She frantically looks all over the bag but there’s no name anywhere then she remembers she too had no identification on her bag — who needs it when you’re handling the bag yourself? She tries to recall her travelling companions but they’re all a blur. The bag may have gone to the end of the line as far as Batemans Bay. The difficulty of finding and returning bags is just starting to sink in. Bec babe, you’ve got to get your head out of the clouds.

Bec reopens the bag to see if there are any clues inside about the owner but once again she’s distracted by the contents. She tentatively lifts up a full-length crimson dress with a low-cut neckline and a split up one side to the knee. She pulls it out of the bag and holds it against herself running her hands over the silky material. She lays it out on the bed, moves around the cabin closing the curtains, pulls off her jumper and jeans and slips the dress over her head. The dress is a size too small for her but it’s soft and cool against her skin. She doesn’t dare look in the mirror. She starts rummaging through the bag again pulling out a midnight blue short dress, purple velvet pants, boldly patterned tops, slinky silver shoes, flimsy lace underwear she’s only ever seen on mannequins in Myer and at the very bottom of the bag a bottle of champagne in bubble wrap. You know what happens when you drink Rebecca!

Bec drinks half the bottle of champagne and is still wearing the red dress. There’s something she must do while she can still stand upright. She looks at the silver shoes lying on the bed but the straps look too complicated. She brushes her hair, puts on some lipstick and picks up the champagne bottle. She opens the cabin door and looks around. All is quiet except for pub music and voices hanging in the air. She shivers in the cool slight breeze but she’s not going to put on her black jacket. She sets out for the beach track her bare feet tender on every stone and twig but she’s not going back to put on her boring black shoes. She takes another swig of the champagne to give herself the courage to walk along the dark overgrown track with its skittering nightlife and whispering tea-trees. She tries not to think of Blair Witch. As she stumbles along the track she concentrates on the sound of the waves getting louder and louder until the track widens and opens up and she hobbles over to the lookout.

A full ripe moon is hanging low over the sea. Bec walks down the wooden steps to the beach and bathes her aching feet in the cold water. She turns her face to that Mallacoota moon, takes a deep breath and shouts over the surf Chas I came here to leave you at the place you loved with all your heart but I lost you along the way and I think you may have to rest elsewhere but you’d be happy anywhere you could cast your line into the surf and I’m just hoping whoever has my suitcase knows what to do with that biscuit tin and doesn’t mistake your ashes for some new superfood and I won’t be back here again in fact I’m thinking I might save those pennies and go on a cruise that includes that other Genoa so goodbye and I love you.

 She catches her breath and listens. There’s no reply.

 

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