He wakes to the sound of a wattlebird, a call that starts as a scratching sound and ends in a song. It is as if, he thinks this morning although he has never thought it before, the bird is trying to clear its throat after a night on the piss with a packet of ciggies thrown into the mix.
Ciggies. The word belongs to her. If he were using one of his own it would be fags or smokes.
She looks over the top of her computer from time to time and says, ‘I’m going downstairs for a ciggie. If anyone asks.’ But if you mention cigarettes and smoke breaks these days, people roll their eyes and say, ‘All right for some,’ and he doesn’t want to see them roll their eyes when it’s her, so when they ask (and someone nearly always does), he shakes his head and says, ‘What? No, haven’t seen her sorry. Is her coat still there? Yeah? Well, she can’t be too far away.’
He went downstairs with her once. Pretended he was going next door for a coffee then stood with her in the laneway, four metres from the door. She stood, carefully placing the outside edge of her boot on the outside edge of the line they’d painted four metres from the door. Black, with red embroidered flowers, she wore those boots once or twice each week in winter. They went past her ankle but finished well below her knee.
She smoked with her left hand and this was a surprise to him because that was the hand with the missing finger. Not her whole finger, only down to the knuckle, enough to leave her middle finger shorter than the other two that flanked it. She smokes the same way she does everything – quickly, but thoroughly, turning the white stick to ash faster even than his father ever did. He wanted to know whether that was the finger she used to flip the bird but then he thought a woman like that wouldn’t, would she? She wouldn’t flip the bird.
‘Can I get you a coffee?’ he’d asked, but she shook her head. ‘No caffeine after three,’ she’d said.
The wattlebird calls again. A car door bangs closed, an engine starts. From the other side of the bed, the alarm starts its call. He watches as his missus, his wife, the mother of his children, reaches out and presses snooze.