“There was a knock at her door; it was Nick Cave.”

muse: kirra pendergast

Maggie was sick and tired of people taking the piss; specifically, people with flaccid appendages dangling between their legs; more specifically the preened-bearded, wax-haired, fake-spectacled, kitsch-shirted six-foot-one flaccid appendage talking at her from the other side of the reclaimed pallet table at which she sat.

“Yah, yah, so I was sitting on this beach in Goa right, and this topless Reiki chick had just totally dialled into me. I mean, right, she was massaging my aura right there on the beach. We were one, right there in that moment, where that guy wrote that Leo movie about a beach and stuff – I forget the name.

“So she ohmed, but like properly ohmed yah – like bringing in the sound of the universe right into my soul – and pop: my third eye was wide mahn. And in that moment, I saw it. I mean I could actually feel it in my mouth, I could taste it on my tongue and – get this – I even got brain freeze at the reality of this manifestation that was coming through to me. So yah, here it is: hemp-yah-ice cream. I started my crowdfunder last month and, yah…five figures already.” He snuffed through his nostrils in arrogant self-appreciation and blew some of the beer foam clinging to his moustache across the table.

Oh God. Was this really happening? Had literally the entire population of Bondi turned into self-infatuated space cadets? Maggie glanced skeptically at the glass of water in her hand, trying to discern whether the cause of this atrocious experience was in fact a Timothy Leary creation lurking in the local network of pipelines spouting hallucinatory molecules into the digestive tracts of every 30-something silver spooner in the district.

“Sounds like frozen compost to me. And by the way, Alex Garland wrote ­The Beach­ on Haad Tien bay, Koh Phangan – that’s Thailand, not fucking India. If you’re going to bullshit, at least get the key facts right, Richard.”

Maggie thrust the milk crate-upcycled chair backwards with her black denim-clad calves, nearly fracturing the shins of the guy behind her, causing him to stumble into his friend, caught up in the hysterically baggy gusset of his über-trendy harem pants, that fell below his knees.

She swept her jacket from her chair and caught Bullshitter’s freshly-purchase glass of craft beer, spilling the overpriced amber fluid all over his blue plaid pants. ‘Small mercies’, she thought, ‘there goes 27 dollars of liquid pretentiousness’.

“Ah, oh – shit,” he stuttered, “like, double-yew tee eff chicky. And yah, like, my name’s Seth, not Richard…”

“Yeah? Sorry, you must just look like a Dick to me…” and she paced out into the cold Sydney night, gulping in the chill air as if taking breath for the first time in the last three quarters of an hour.

•  •  •  •  •

Why Maggie still bothered, she had no idea, she pondered as the coldness of the sand seeped through her jeans, grasping at her buttocks hard enough to make them ache. But she didn’t move. She was enjoying her longneck of disgracefully unfashionable Tooheys beer wrapped in brown paper as she watched the fairy lights of refraction twinkle across the undulating ocean. Their sources, whether street lights or passing cars or shop signs or living room lights of $1,800-a-week apartments, were so mundanely unromantic, yet stolen by the sea and played with by the gentle waves, they became magical, ethereal.

She wished she could fall into that ink-black brine, drift like the lights from the mediocre to become extraordinary. She didn’t want to be rich and famous, she just wanted to be…worthwhile – to stop this treading water existence and actually make an impression on the world.

She took her iPhone from her pocket and moved down to the water’s edge, clicking on the camera app that allowed low light exposures, and turned her phone upside down, bringing the tiny lens as close to the lapping waves as she dared. The wave clutched at the low hem of her coat, dragging it shorewards before retreating with it, a cold, wet thief wishing to peel it from her back. As the mirror-like sand reflected the striations of multi-coloured lights, she clicked. The wave released its grasp, crept through the canvas of her shoes and curled its cold tendrils around her toes.

•  •  •  •  •

Hashtag-nocturnalreflections, she typed as she sipped her long black. “Sure, I’d like to have a bit of love in my life, but I’m not going to put up with a fuckwit to get it,” she said, staring at her rippling reflection in the depths of the steaming mug.

“I know that Mags, I just think you should drop your standards a bit,” replied the white-blonde-haired barista with barely a square millimetre of natural skin colour remaining on her slender arms.

“Yeah, not into the gutter though, hey Rachel!” They laughed again at the thought of last night’s disappointment in male form skulking home in his atrocious beer-soaked pants, the light cotton clinging to him in all the most embarrassing ways and emitting the distinct aromas of a teenage party gone awry.

She got down from the bar stool, grabbed her cup, and with a broad smile and beverage salute, she headed into the morning, hoisting her heavy backpack onto one shoulder and skipping across the road to make it to her bus into the city.

Taking the two cups of the earphones that hung around her neck, she drew them up to her ears, cocooning herself from the world in sounds only of her own choosing. She loved the solitude it brought her when riding the bus or walking through the streets of the frenetic city. It was as if she was not there at all, viewing her surroundings through a closed circuit monitor, her body a surrogate automaton, oblivious to the jostling bodies that cascaded towards her like an avalanche of flesh and fashion.

She used to wear the standard, free-with-the-phone buds, discretely pressing the little white beetles into her ears and re-inserting them every two blocks once they had worked themselves free of their precarious nook and dangled lifelessly from their identical twin, who held on for dear life to save them both. It would scream its tiny voice into the void until Maggie nestled it once more back into its little cave, whispering sensuously into her ear in tones of Robert Smith; ‘whenever I’m alone with you, you make me feel like I am home again.’

These repetitive suicides at the gallows of her diminutive troubadours wasn’t the reason for her relegating them to the bottom drawer of her bedside table. Maggie found that, despite their less than subtle nooses dangling from her ears, unobscured by the long mousey hair she usually tied in a scruffy bundle at the back of her head, people would still invade her sanctuary of sound, asking her for the time, a coffee or her phone number. After one continually persistent wannabe Allen Ginsberg had insisted on invading her private space again and again on one particularly long and arduous ten-minute bus ride, she had alighted early, stepped through the door of the JB Hi-Fi store across the road from the bus stop and asked the first staff member she could distract from their Facebook account for the most glaringly obvious headphones available.

“How many decibels are you looking for?”

“Enough to hear the music I’m playing – I really don’t care. No, not the lightweight ones – and those in-ear things will be in another small, dark cavity if you don’t listen to me. Headphones – big – shiny.”

A raise of one eyebrow, a reaching right hand and not a single other word brought Maggie’s beautiful, chrome intruder-eradicators into her possession and, from that day onwards, she was in overpopulated, suffocatingly crowded, even Boxing Day Sales-bonkers bliss. No one could penetrate her chromium audio shields – fuck the lot of them

•  •  •  •  •

She was early for the shoot, and it gave her time to check the angles, lighting and most beneficial backdrops through the viewfinder of her Hasselblad 500. She still worked medium format and, though she had bought a digital back for her 30-year-old camera and only occasionally indulged in the inordinate expense of running real film through it, she couldn’t part from the bulky, yet satisfyingly tangible piece of photographic history.

She cradled the camera in her left hand, the bulky cube of its body weighing pleasingly heavy in her palm as she adjusted focus and aperture with her right.

 The couple arrived, all glee giggles and touchy-feely. Maggie greeted them and discussed the shoot; what they wanted, what she suggested, but mostly that she wanted them to simply be themselves. This was her modus operandi, not to manufacture some beyond natural fabrication of her subjects, but to reflect them only as themselves, and it was this that afforded her a loyal, if select clientele.

This, however, was little more than a bill-paying exercise, and Maggie found herself fulfilling formulaic needs in a tragically uninspiring shoot. It epitomised all the glamour, creativity and excitement that people assumed a life as a professional photographer wasn’t.

They sat at the Has-Bean café, Maggie’s fifth soy latte of the day slowly cooling and congealing in front of her as she flicked through the images on her MacBook Air, flipping it around for the adoring couple to ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ and gush over as the cynicism of Maggie’s inner monologue mocked their romance.

She wondered how long it would be before he cheated, in heart or mind or body, on his new bride. She’d seen his frequent furtive glances at the overly exposed cleavage of the 20-something waitress, his eyes unsubtly clambering their way up her perfectly toned and unfathomably long legs, his smile at his wife’s most recent remark of infatuation faltering in distraction upon his lips. He was careful to hide these departures of adoration from his betrothed and the victim of his carnal instincts, but to the other thirty pairs of eyes in the café they were a cavalcade of declaration, a full pageant – streamers, marching band, Mardi Gras float, all screaming of his desirous scrutiny.

Maggie pictured the ‘late nights at work’, mascara smearing steadily down a rosy cheek toward the phone cradled in a shaking hand as the bride of such a brief time timidly accepted her husband’s feeble excuse. She had found the texts, she had seen the receipts, the truth was abundantly clear and she wondered how many of their friends and his colleagues were privy to his dirty little secret, but she wouldn’t, she couldn’t confront him or admit it. The ensuing divorce would be nasty, her in floods of tears, the bump in her tummy rhythmically nudging her from the inside, begging him for some mercy. He hailing showers of guilt and blame upon her, how it was her fault that he had strayed. And she would be left, five months knocked up, jobless, ejected from the Vaucluse apartment his parents had bought them as a wedding gift, the laughing stock of their social circle and a future unfolding as a welfare mother, struggling to raise a child alone, family in a far-off land and she becoming everything she had always feared – utterly hopeless.

Maggie shook herself back to reality, laughing to herself at her subconscious prediction of destruction of this innocent love that had only just begun.

•  •  •  •  •

“Nick Cave.”

Maggie took another sip of her beer. She had succumbed to wearing a dress, but she was damned if she was going to stoop to the level of espresso martinis and margaritas in her ladylike mannerisms. “Hmmm?” she looked up at the man-bunned schmuck who had cornered her in the kitchen. At least, she assumed he was a schmuck, just another Bondi hipster, ‘deeply in touch with his feminine side, yah’, probably fresh out of a Bikram class and heading to the fridge for his craft beer that had been artisan-brewed from alpaca tears by a Guatemalan hill tribe.

In fairness, he’d only said three sentences and been perfectly cordial and reserved, but Maggie’s defences were high and her hide too thick to be massaged and tenderised by polite small talk.

“Nick Cave,” he repeated. “Yeah, it was the craziest thing. I was sitting in my local café, flicking through a copy of that local photo mag, um, F-Stop I think it was, and he just appeared over my shoulder. He was like, ‘wow, they’re some great shots’. And you know what my ultra-cool and casual response was? ‘You’re Nick Cave,’ like he had woken up that morning with complete identity amnesia and needed reminding of who he had been his entire fucking life!”

Maggie chuckled. She knew the name Nick Cave, she even knew the face, all gaunt and vampire-esque, but like the sexy, brooding, Brad Pitt, Robert Pattinson kind of vampire, not the Nosferatu, Max Shrek, ugly, scary as shit, kind. But who Nick Cave was on the grand and all-judgemental scale of the celebrity barometer, she had next to no clue.

“Wow, what a trip,” she replied, and a shiver rattled from somewhere behind her eyebrows, across her cheeks, down the back of her throat and landed heavily and slightly nauseatingly in the pit of her stomach. “Wait, what magazine were you reading?”

She recalled the back-and-forth emails, the awkward telephone interview and the reluctance of her subject to be exposed on the pages of a magazine for nothing more than a thank you. That was three months ago, and the lingering promise of publication had haunted and taunted her every time she had seen an issue of F-Stop ­in the hippest caffeine dispensaries in the area. Coffee culture was everything to these people she abstractly called peers, so to feature amongst the pages of the most leafed-through journal on the scene, so hipster that it’s printed with soy-based inks on coconut fibre and not even available for purchase, was the size seven boot wedged between door and frame of opportunity that she had been searching for for the last three years.

She collected her thoughts, found herself clutching the schmuck’s arm. “Yeah, it was the latest issue,” he was saying, “some black and white shoot of this chick on a tree.” Ungracious and ineloquent though it was, the top-knotted chump had perfectly described the images Maggie had created of Sophie, the waif-like Insta-celebrity she had managed to persuade to model for her on the expansive buttresses of the Morton Bay fig trees in Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens. Sophie or @sopharsogood, as her five hundred and twelve thousand followers knew her, now charged $2,000 per post for doing nothing more talented than wearing a bikini, and even the ‘wearing’ aspect of that loose job description was optional. Maggie, meanwhile, was charging $500 for a complete shoot that might take an entire day and comprise a full portfolio, the culmination of her four years’ training and the same again in industry experience. ‘The prices you can charge for a 20-year-old body and a good pair of unencumbered tits’, she mused.

“Oh my God, that’s mine – that’s my shoot!”

“You’re shitting me. Seriously, Nick Cave loved it – paid the café twenty bucks for the mag and everything. We should celebrate! Nick-fucking-Cave, man!” He held up a hand, beckoning a high five. Torn between the shameful lameness of the action and the excitement of the moment, Maggie threw her social credibility out the window and responded, landing her palm square with a resonant and sonorous crack that turned the dozen nearby heads also crammed into the small kitchen. She raised her eyebrows with an expression of ‘shit yeah we just high fived – and we nailed it’, and returned the smile of her newfound best buddy. Maybe he wasn’t such a schmuck after all.

The party swirled around them, drifting them from room to room like leaves on the gentle currents of a lethargic river. Luke, the schmuck, turned out to be a pretty straight-up guy. Studying to be a paramedic, he’d just returned from a year in Lombok, training orphaned puppies to be guide dogs, or some other profoundly selfless and admirable cause, and didn’t know anyone at the party other than Rachel, the barista from downstairs and hostess of this spontaneous soiree. She had dated his brother a few years back, until the beloved sibling had slept with Rachel’s housemate’s boyfriend and the pair had eloped to San Francisco. The story had emerged happily – the pair were now married and about to adopt their first child – and Luke and Rachel had reconnected only this morning over the ugly incident of dickheadedness-turned-heart-warming tale.

Maggie caught herself falling into the abyss of lostness experienced when the sole focus of your interest in a sea of people disappears from sight to replenish drinks, but is gone for long enough to make you feel awkward about standing alone in the middle of a room full of strangers.

What was this? What was it that she was feeling? Had she spontaneously contracted vertigo? Had the brie on the nibbles table been a little past its prime? Had that charming prick dropped a rohypnol into her cider, or was she actually kind of into him? She blushed at her own thoughts, shoe-gazed at the self-admittance that, after being jerked around for the last two years, she actually believed that she had just found her Excalibur, her holy grail, a male human being she wouldn’t have to double-date with his own ego.

She grabbed the hand of her own hope, willing it to not run too fast or too high, but she felt the sun on her face, the wind in her hair and she let herself go, to be carried submissively to the lofty heights of possibility.

She looked up, the smile still etched from rosy cheek to rosy cheek, and saw him. Though the miasma of conversation and music swallowed their words, Luke was in obviously heated discussion with a stunningly attractive blonde on the other side of the room. His smirk mocked Maggie from afar, deriding her hope in silence. And then the blonde slapped him.

•  •  •  •  •

The thin mist formed droplets on the railings along the Bondi beachfront, strings of liqueous pearls in twinkling Art Deco beauty. She angled her iPhone to capture the starburst created by the green traffic light and clicked. ‘hashtag-losthope’, she captioned in her mind. She took another sip from her second Tooheys longneck, draining the bottle and stumbling slightly on her heals as she turned for home.

•  •  •  •  •

A wedding on the Northern Beaches had been a thankful escape from the neighbourhood on Saturday, and Sunday had seen torrential rain, committing her gladly to a day on the couch with Netflix and Mars, Maggie’s dachshund. People always thought it was a wonderfully astral name for such a modestly-limbed creature, giving her an air of interstellar ambition despite her diminutive stature. Truth was, Maggie had been stuck for a name for the first two weeks of Mars’ adoption. Sausage, Frank (as in frankfurter) and Weiner had been tentatively and unresponsively tested, but it wasn’t until she had visited her friend’s child’s birthday party that the name had emerged. Dog, as she was temporarily christened, had gone missing, running between the screaming childrens’ legs, disappearing behind bushes – she was so stumpy she could have easily hidden in the freshly-mown grass. After 20 fretful minutes, Dog found Maggie, casually strolling up to her as if nothing had happened and collapsing at her feet for a tummy rub. She hadn’t moved from that spot for the next hour and Maggie had to carry her to the car, Dog laying worryingly limp and heavy across Maggie’s lap as she drove. She brought her inside, laid her in her bed and had opened her laptop to ask Google where the nearest vet was when Dog hauled her body all three centimetres up onto all fours. With the sound of a chicken being strangled in a drainpipe, the little dachshund spewed an unctuous brown ooze across the carpet, wagged her tail, bounced with pride on her front legs and returned to her basket to fall asleep for the rest of the afternoon.

There, in the pungent, acrid, gelatinous slime that was slowly seeping into her carpet and would have visitors asking “do you have a baby?” for the next two months, was the wrapper of a kid-sized Mars bar. The little dog had found her name.

“Luke was asking after you the other night – we didn’t see you leave,” said Rachel as she foamed the silver jug of soy milk, steam rising to fog her glasses in the early morning chill air. She drew them up onto the top of her head absent-mindedly and poured the warm milk into Maggie’s green Keep Cup.

“Yeah, well I didn’t want to stick around and listen to anymore of his bullshit. Sorry for not saying goodbye though.”

“Luke’s a good guy – I thought you two would have got on like a tiny home on fire. Becks felt awful about her screw-up though.”

Maggie looked up from her coffee, brow furrowed and eyebrows beckoning elaboration.

“Didn’t you see? She belted him, cut his cheek open with her ring – poor guy ended up in surgery in the middle of the night and copped five stitches for nothing.” Rachel stepped to the register to take the next coffee order from the cross-fit junkies who looked like a male and female interpretation of Michelangelo’s ‘David’ swathed in Lycra.

Maggie watched the transaction, astounded at the discourtesy and arrogance of the customers as they waved their credit card in the air without the slightest acknowledgement of Rachel, who was desperately trying to connect the EFTPOS terminal in her hand with the man’s airborne platinum visa, and wondered, not for the first time, how Rachel put up with the Bondi crowd.

Rachel returned to the coffee machine and Maggie to begin the new order. “Jerks”, said Maggie, and Rachel raised her eyebrows knowingly. “So wait, what do you mean, ‘screw up’? I thought he was flirting with her.”

“No way! Ha ha! He would so not go there,” Rachel laughed. “That was Becks…you know, my ex-housemate, Luke’s brother’s husband’s ex-fiancé” She danced her finger through the air to gesticulate each connection of the tangled and almost incestuous quandary. “Shit, didn’t he tell you? James, Luke’s twin brother, ran off with Becks’ man a few years back. Becks thought Luke was James and slapped him for having the gall to show his face in Bondi. Burst into tears when she found out it was the wrong brother – she thought he was still in Lombok looking after the strays!”

•  •  •  •  •

Maggie sat at home idly stroking Mars and finishing her coffee. The first nice guy she’d met in God knows how long and she’d fucked it up. Still, whatever Rachel had recently revealed of his intra-relational innocence, he was still full of shit. That much was certain.

The door buzzer caught her off-guard, the thankfully now-tepid remainder of her coffee spilling over Mars’ head, who sprung off the couch and shook her little head, her drooping ears slapping loudly and a decidedly pissed-off glare in her eye.

The handset for the buzzer had never worked, so Maggie jogged to her door, opened it, making sure to put one of her Converse trainers in the doorway to prevent another lock-out, and bounced down the two flights of stairs.

There was a knock at her door; it was Nick Cave.

She stood there, white-gloss door clutched in her numb hand, jaw communing with the lint of the entranceway carpet, eyes taking in the slightly pallid features, the smoothed-back, jet-black hair, the open-collared white shirt, the flecks of detritus on the black linen shoulders of his suit jacket. “You’re – you’re Nick Cave,” she stuttered.

“You know, you’re the second person this week who’s told me that.”

•  •  •  •  •

They sat on the couch Maggie’s parents had kindly donated to her instead of taking to the tip, the worn blue faux-suede making every Mars-induced stain humiliatingly obvious.

“I saw your images,” said Nick. “They have a Botticelli charm with the innocent seduction of Sally Mann, an iconoclastic contemporary Lolita-meets-Mona Lisa vibe.” ‘A chick on a tree’ – fuck you Luke, Nick Cave’s got eloquence, Nick Cave’s got grace.

“Wow, um, thanks I guess! Yeah, I try to capture the subtext of my victims,” she quipped. Nick picked up the nuance and huffed amusedly, taking another drink of the glass of water he’d requested. “I try not to shoot the people, I try to shoot their story.” Oh God, too much. Now she was just sounding pretentious, vainly attempting to impress the internationally-renowned musician sitting in her apartment, on her couch, drinking water from her glass and nonchalantly stroking her dog with the toe of his shoe.

“I get that, I get that…” he trailed off. “Say, come to Melbourne with me. I have this idea and I think you’d be the perfect person for it.”

“Um…” was the longest sentence Maggie could string together.

“Oh, hey no. I don’t mean, like, ‘come to Melbourne with me,’” Nick hastened,  his plangent voice lilting in dulcet humour, “Like, come to Melbourne for me, as my photographer.”

•  •  •  •  •

Maggie sat on the bottom step of the flight of stairs leading to her apartment. Well, Luke, you may have been full of shit, but you said it; Nick-fucking-Cave, she thought, shaking her head and laughing out loud, her high and happy giggle rattling its way up to the top and back down the resonant empty stairwell.

But Rachel had said he was innocent, a simple case of mistaken identity. She said he really had been in Lombok. And Nick Cave had just invited her to Melbourne to be the exclusive photographer on an upcoming book project.

She flung the front door open and ran barefoot for two blocks along the cold pavement to Rachel’s café, and stood at the coffee machine, dishevelled and panting.

“Hey Mags – did you forget something, or do you really need a second coffee that badly,” Rachel said, nodding her head to Maggie’s bare feet as she dextrously shook a fern leaf onto the top of the latté she was pouring for the pseudo-wannabe-someone standing at the counter.

“Rach, I think I screwed up. Have you got a phone number for Luke?”

“Well yeah, give me a minute to get my phone. But Mags, he was only in town for a few days – he’s just moved to Melbourne.”

“Perfect,” thought Maggie.