Elizabeth Tan is a West Australian writer whose work has recently appeared in Best Australian Stories (2016), Seizure, Overland and Pencilled In. Her first novel, Rubik, was released by Brio in 2017.
Collages by Elizabeth Tan, from little punchclock
—I wish you would just tell me.
Ant gazes up at Tom, who is still sweaty from his morning run—tight jaw glistening, white earbuds hanging over the darkened neckline of his t-shirt. Tom tips water into his mouth from a crushed Mount Franklin bottle, and Ant watches Tom’s nervous swig slide down Tom’s throat. A hard lump of tension, tangible as an egg.
—There’s nothing to tell you, Ant.
—I won’t be mad. I promise. I wasn’t mad that time you ditched my phone into a storm drain.
Tom snorts, like can you believe this guy, but Ant continues:
—It wasn’t an accident. I know because you received a text on your phone and then you snatched my phone out of my hand and threw it down the storm drain. That’s a difficult thing to do not-on-purpose.
—You’re still mad about that?
—No, I’m not mad. This has been well-established. And now you’re trying to derail the conversation, but this conversation is about me asking you to tell me the truth about the matching Glock pistols in our respective underwear drawers and the identical emergency briefcases of cash in nine different currencies sequestered behind secret panels in our wardrobes.
—How did you even get in here, Ant?
—Again, you are trying to derail the conversation, but the answer to your question is that I know how to pick locks. Did you know that I know how to pick locks? I certainly didn’t know that I knew how to pick locks, just like I didn’t know that we had matching Glocks and briefcases, which is the topic of this conversation.
—I replaced your phone with an even better one and your new phone number ends in ‘268’ which spells ‘ANT’, which you admitted was convenient.
—Are you in the same conversation that I am in, Tom? I wish you would join me in this conversation that I am having about the Glocks and the briefcases and your unwillingness to be forthcoming.
Tom drops his Mount Franklin bottle in the kitchen bin.
—Ant, I can’t do this right now. I need a shower.
—And I need some fucking perspicuity, Tom.
Now Ant gets out of his chair. He walks towards Tom until they are almost chest-to-chest—close enough to smell Tom, damp and tight and pissed off. There is a soft tinny song spurting out of Tom’s hanging earbuds.
Tom swallows. Ant leans in.
—Stop trying to protect me, Tom. It’s getting old.
Tom groans. He takes a step back, but it’s too late; the moment has twisted like a screw. Ant’s expression hasn’t changed. Tom bravely affects a laugh.