We sit at the back of the bus, pushing our bodies into the seats as a counterpoint to the rolling motion that reminds me of a boat on a displeased sea.
‘This might be a “Jack” thing to say,’ my boyfriend says. His opening remark warns me that he is bringing up a subject we don’t normally talk about. ‘But I bet Jack would know how much a bus costs.’
‘He wouldn’t,’ I say. ‘My husband was a train driver, he wasn’t interested in buses.’
My boyfriend is silent for a moment, his arm around my shoulder stiffening slightly as the bus leaves a side street and returns to the main road. We’re back on a two lane highway, where yellow street lamps cast jaundiced shadows on the asphalt road.
‘How much does a train cost?’ he says. ‘I want to buy one.’
‘It wouldn’t be much use. There isn’t a railway track from the Northern Beaches to the city.’
‘I’d build one.’
‘But you’d have to buy up all that land from here to there.’
‘I’d make it an underground train,’ he says. ‘I’d build a giant tunnel from Palm Beach to Wynyard. It would go right under the Harbour.’
‘That would cost billions,’ I say. The familiar landmarks of our suburb appear outside the tinted windows. The lights of the petrol station look like an underexposed photograph, in need of another stop of exposure.
‘I could ask all the rich men in the world to contribute. I’d tell them we need a more comfortable way to get to work.’
I stretch my fingers resting on his thigh, coming in contact with the hard seam of his jeans. I read once that sitting side by side rather than face to face with a man makes it easier for him to talk. My boyfriend and I have never run into the problem of not being able to talk, no matter how we are seated. I don’t think sitting side by side with Jack would have encouraged him to open up. He kept his dark thoughts to himself, right up until the end.
I turn towards my boyfriend and push a strand of his hair from his forehead. He needs a haircut. He hasn’t had time.
‘If you told a bunch of rich men you needed a more comfortable way to get to work, they’d tell you to buy a car. Building a railway system seems excessive,’ I say.
He grins and shakes his head. ‘But they’d be doing something for everyone. I’d be giving them a chance to be altruistic.’
Our stop approaches. He reaches up to push the red button. The blue ‘next stop’ sign illuminates accompanied by a jarring buzz. We leave the bus and walk up the dark side street.
‘Look at the full moon,’ I say, my chin tilted towards the sky. ‘It’s so beautiful.’
His laugh is low and throaty. ‘Typical,’ he says, ‘I’m talking about revolutionising Sydney’s public transport system and you’re looking at the moon. The perfect example of the difference between masculine and feminine energy.’ He is silent for a few moments. ‘I bet Jack could tell us how much a train costs,’ he says.
‘No he couldn’t…’ I reply. I pause for as long as I can, somehow knowing intuitively that the longer I wait the more impact my words will have. When the pause has stretched as far as it can without breaking, I finish my sentence, ‘… because he’s dead.’
There is a moment’s hesitation and then we both laugh, our voices slicing through the evening quiet of our suburban street. The moonlight outlines leafy shadows with silver paint.
‘What if Jack can hear what you say about him,’ my boyfriend says, as we approach our front steps. ‘And when you die he’ll have a go at you for taking the piss.’
‘He can go right ahead. My taking the piss isn’t as bad as him killing himself. I think I’ve got more to complain about.’
‘Fair point,’ says my boyfriend, as he opens our front door and ushers me into the warmth of our pole house nestled among the trees. He leans down to kiss me on the cheek. He smiles, his eyes still full of moonlight. ‘Looks like we’re stuck with taking the bus.’