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Emma felt that familiar, sick, nervous feeling in the pit of her stomach as she looked around the empty apartment. This was supposed to be a fun weekend in the city with her old school friend, Helen. But it had all gone wrong.

Emma’s flight had thankfully been on time and she had waited with nervous anticipation at the luggage carousel until finally her plain navy-blue wheeled case had appeared. Next was the trauma of finding the spot across from the taxi rank where she’d agreed Helen would drive by and pick her up. As each car came into view, she muttered to herself, ‘white Corona,’ ‘white Corona.’ Would they even recognize each other? It had been 25 years of cards, phone calls and emails but this was their first face to face contact in all that time.

Her fears were groundless. A white Corona had pulled up to the kerb and Helen had jumped out of the car and enveloped her in a big hug. Emma surreptitiously noted that Helen was quite grey and had put on a few kilos. She patted her freshly cut and coloured hair and wondered how much she had changed. The navy-blue case was stowed in the boot with Helen’s battered hold-all and off they drove to the apartment Helen had organized for them in the city centre.

Their 15th floor apartment had impressive views of the city. Helen had everything planned. For lunch, they would have fish and chips down by the river and then this afternoon they would browse some jewelers, so that Helen could look for the perfect eternity ring. In the evening they would eat at the steakhouse across the road. The next day was to be devoted to shopping for a mother-of-the-bride outfit for Helen to wear to her daughter’s wedding, finishing with a night out at the cinema.

Emma recognized the one-sidedness of these plans, but Helen had been so helpful. Anyway, she was used to fitting in with other people’s plans. It was just so much fun to be away from her humdrum existence for a few days. Lunch had been relaxing and then she had dutifully admired and made helpful suggestions as Helen had tried ring after ring. Then at the steakhouse, they had ordered a glass of bubbly each and had laughed and giggled through memories of school and had shared snapshots and funny stories of the ensuing years.

At 6.00 the next morning, Emma woke to the sound of a mobile ringing. She heard Helen’s sleepy voice and then long silences punctuated by abrupt responses. No doubt Helen would have another amusing family saga to tell over breakfast. Emma showered and dressed carefully in her navy dress and matching shoes and wafted into the living area on a cloud of Chanel No 5. Helen was standing near the door with her suitcase and handbag.

I was hoping you’d emerge soon. I have to go.”

What do you mean, you have to go,” said Emma.

I mean all hell has broken loose. Danny has been arrested for assault.”

Emma knew that Helen’s youngest son, Danny, was a bit of a tear-away. She could understand that Helen would have to be home to be a support for her family, but what about their weekend?

Helen had a two-hour drive ahead of her and was in a hurry to leave.

You’ll be fine,” she said. “Just rebook an earlier flight; or if you want to stay, the apartment’s paid up for another night. We won’t be able to get a refund anyway.”

You just get yourself back safely to your family,” said Emma. “Don’t worry about me.”

And that was that. They hugged briefly and Helen was gone.

Emma wandered around for a few minutes and wondered whether you could actually throw up from anxiety. She looked at the view a couple of times. She looked at her mobile and contemplated calling her husband, Michael. He would say she should rebook her flight and come straight home, but it was too early to ring him anyway. She sat down at the table in the living area and opened the leather-bound compendium, hoping it held menus of close-by cafes. With any luck, she could grab some takeaway breakfast somewhere. There was a scratch pad and pen and she pulled them toward her thoughtfully. What if she stayed?

It was a tantalizing thought. A day and a half doing just as she pleased. No one else to consider. No one to judge or tell her she was being silly. Pen poised, she started to write.

Art Gallery.

There was a Margaret Olley Exhibition she had been dying to see.

Antique Shop. Not to actually buy anything but to browse and dream a bit.

She could make this a sort of game. Years ago, she’d read this book called ‘The Dice Man’. It was about this psychiatrist who started throwing dice to make decisions. In the book the decisions and the chance got crazier and crazier. But she was a sensible person. This was just a bit of fun and it was just for today.

No dice, but she could flip a coin. She took a 20c piece out of her purse.

So, heads, she would find a place that did takeaway coffee and croissants and bring them back here. Tails, she would find a proper restaurant and have a cooked breakfast. She tossed. Heads. She carefully put her swipe card in her bag and took the lift down to the foyer. The girl at the desk pointed to a café over the road and in minutes she had a large takeaway coffee and a croissant and was back at the apartment. 6.45. Still too early to ring Michael. She looked at the coin. She picked up the pen. Heads, she would ring Michael at 7.00 and tell him she was going to try to rebook and fly back as soon as possible. Tails, she would stay until tomorrow and tell him about it later. She tossed the coin. Tails. She couldn’t help but smile. This was surprisingly fun. It was as if another person rather than herself was making the final decision. Was that healthy? Who cared? As long as both choices were sensible it shouldn’t matter.

So, she doodled a few notes. Heads, she would go to the little boutique she’d noticed yesterday, then on to the Art Gallery and finish up with lunch at a restaurant. She thought for a minute. Somewhere ethnic that she wouldn’t normally go to. Tails she would do as she and Helen had planned. A morning at the big department store in the next block, looking at clothes and homewares, and then lunch in the charming café on the top floor. She tossed. Heads. She felt elated. She had to do it now. No choice.

The boutique opened at 9.00. Emma browsed the racks of clothes with interest. It was one of those hippy sorts of places where everything seemed to be natural cotton that wrinkled as soon as you looked at it. Nice, but not really her style. There were leather belts with interesting bronze buckles, harem pants, embroidered vests. Imagine what Michael would say if she came home with purple harem pants. There was a stand with scarves. Some were gauzy, others silky. A large red silk scarf caught her eye. She touched the smooth slippery fabric and smiled. She gently grasped it and took it to the antique looking mirror on the wall. The colour really suited her dark hair and eyes. She draped it around her neck. The sales assistant wandered over.

You can wear a scarf like that lots of different ways. Let me show you.”

Emma watched in amazement as the woman showed her at least half a dozen variations she would never have considered: twisting it, looping it, arranging it asymmetrically.

Looks great against the navy dress,” said the woman.

I’ll take it,” said Emma. “Would you mind if I wore it now? Could you show me that asymmetrical way again?”

At the chemist next door, she had a brainwave and went in and selected lipstick in the same shade as the scarf.

Next stop the Art Gallery. In the Ladies, she carefully applied the lipstick. A different person stared back at her from the mirror, a person with style and confidence. At the Exhibition, she decided to just gravitate to what she was drawn to. She kept returning to the paintings of Old Queenslander style houses. There was a sepia and ochre picture of historic buildings in Spring Hill. Another she liked was of a cane-farmer’s wooden-stumped cottage. But the one she loved most of all was a garden room. It was as if the outdoors and the indoors didn’t have a clear boundary. It was sort of messy and lived in but had so much character, so much warmth with the wicker chair, the rug and cushions, the old dresser. Maybe that was what her life was lacking. She and Michael loved things like antique furniture, but when the children had left home, it had all become about managing easily. The new house was a cement block with tiled floors. The furniture was sleek and modern and easy to keep clean. Did it have character? Not a skerrick. In fact, did she have any character herself these days?

Down the street from the Art Gallery she spotted a Spanish restaurant. Just the ticket for the ethnic lunch. Before she could change her mind, she walked in and tentatively asked for a table in a corner. The waiter looked suitably Mediterranean and rather suave in crisp white shirt and dark trousers.

Is Madam expecting anyone else?” he asked politely. as he led her to a secluded table set for two.

No,” she gulped. “Just me. I won’t take long.”

No hurry at all. Just ask if you would like me to explain the menu.”

While she perused the menu, the waiter took away the unneeded cutlery and glasses. She took a deep breath and when he returned, asked about the unfamiliar items on the menu. He seemed delighted to assist and with his help she chose Riojas to drink, a selection of seafood-based tapas and a dessert to finish.

Without the distraction of conversation, it was as though her senses were coming alive as she was assailed by exotic aromas and unfamiliar tastes. A second glass of wine and she felt the back of her neck relaxing and a warm glow throughout her body. After the prawn dish, Gambas al ajillo, she thought nothing could ever taste as good again, but her dessert, Crema Catalana, was pure heaven.

To stay any longer would be embarrassing, so she took herself to the counter to pay. The waiter paused before handing her the change.

Beautiful scarf you’re wearing, Madam. Red. The colour of passion.”

Emma felt a slow flush creep up her neck and start to suffuse her cheeks. The waiter continued, oblivious of her discomfort.

Yes, bullfights, Flamenco. The Spanish are a passionate people.”

He handed her a card. She hardly glanced at it and hurried out into the bright street.

Just two stops on the way back to the safety of the apartment. First, into a second hand bookshop from which she emerged with a brown paper carry bag. Next, a deli where she delighted in purchasing salami sandwiches. Michael hated salami.

Emma sat looking out at the city lights. She pulled the books from the bag one by one. She’d found a dog-eared book with photographs of Old Queenslanders, another about restoring antique furniture. The third made her smile. It was a book of Spanish recipes.

At the bottom of the bag was the card the waiter had given her: Flamenco Dance lessons.

The little dance studio in her home town held Spanish dance classes. Her heart beat faster as she imagined driving rhythms, castanets, the colour red.


I’m from Townsville, Australia. I’ve lived in Mackay, Darwin and Perth and have worked as a psychologist, administrative officer and music teacher. All this has been in preparation for my real work in life – raising a family and writing. I had a few short stories published some years back and am excited to have the opportunity to be writing (and more importantly, reading) again.


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