“Hey, sleepy, what are you doing up so late?” said Kel as Marian shuffled drowsily into the kitchen.
“What are you doing!” Oliver echoed, pointing a chocolaty spoon at her. They were playing cards together. Several empty beers decorated the dining table.
“I should ask you the same question,” she said to Oliver, picking him up. “Did you make cake?”
“Yeah, you want some?” said Kel. “There’s plenty left.” He thumbed behind him at the counter.
“I was going to save that for your birthday.”
“Well it can be my birthday early, starting right now. It’s better that way; then I get the whole day instead of working.”
“Happy birthday, Daddy!” Oliver said.
“Happy birthday, baby,” Marian said and kissed her husband’s lips. She licked at the faintest taste of the chocolate icing.
“Good, huh?” he said. There was sadness in his eyes. The airline hadn’t called. There was something unspoken welling up between them that Kel buried as soon as it had appeared.
“I’ll just do these quickly and I’ll come back to bed.” He rose and gathered the plates, the spoon from Oliver’s hand.
Marian took Oliver to the sink and rinsed his face. “Spit,” she said as he swished the water round. She carried him to the stairs but half-way up she paused. She looked back down the dark steps, the corridor, and suddenly yearned for Kel. She thought about the dream, the details now obscuring and scattering, and the heavy sense of hostility and predatory menace; a turmoil that she struggled to revisit in a full sense—there was only now the lingering atmosphere of peril. Oliver was breathing faster than usual. She gently pulled his thumb from his mouth. “Come on now,” she whispered. She continued up the stairs and in the children’s room laid him in his bed, kissing his forehead and petting smooth his airy brown hair—he immediately began sucking at his thumb again, silent. She stood in the centre of the room for a while with Oliver’s gaze trained on her, felt the breeze that broke silently through the window, billowed the curtains gently. And Marian felt something like déjà vu. In the far distance a car horn, the shimmer of leaves in the gum tree—she looked around, felt at the ambience and at the dark with her senses, at the impression of memories rushing backward against the tide and meeting somehow at the present. Katy was sound asleep.
Marian went to the window. The stars that night shone clearly. She felt out with something beyond her for the source of that strangeness that radiated inward, into the room and mixed the channels of the air she breathed—the interior and exterior, what she thought and what there was. One star hung low above the powerlines, glittered underswelling with some mysterious aspect that caused her to cringe with fear—something about it was out of place. Katy moaned and stirred in her sleep. The star as though aware of her scrutiny did something Marian struggled to understand—it moved. It was conscious like a person, transmitting a threat of power, of ubiquity and invulnerability. Marian’s mouth fell open and she felt her body becoming weak. She mouthed as though to speak to the star, to tell it quickly to leave—she and her family—to leave at once. Something grabbed her from behind. She yelped and spun around.
“Hey!” said Kelly, holding a finger to his lips. “It’s just me.”
She looked still in disbelief at her husband then back at the night—just stars, just air and what she saw, what there was.