Close Enough to Lick

Finalist for the 2020 QUT Allen and Unwin Writers Prize

Ciaran Greig


She watched as Aaron leant through the window, far enough to topple out. What if his centre of gravity shifted a mere millimetre? Smashed brains and curdled blood spattered all over the drive in the middle of the night. What a mess that would be. Liss sighed from the bed.

‘Leave it.’

He didn’t. She traced the length of him with her eyes: his long dark legs, the way his skin stretched taut over bone on the back of his neck, his tuft of wayward hair, only just starting to thin at the edges. Liss didn’t mind the spots of grey. Up until a few months ago, she liked to think she had caused them – their stolen touches sprouting threads of grey one by one.

They were past the honeymoon stage now, for sure. Something was rotting between them, sour in the air. It had a complex genealogy, whatever it was, but Liss was sure its provenance lay with the arrival of Aaron’s paranoia. At first, the risk of getting caught was sweet. Energising, even. They would skirt around after dark, dodging his wife, her friends, his friends. Not Liss’ friends, because she didn’t have any. Not anymore. But this I-think-someone-is-watching-us business was getting, frankly, exhausting. And now he was at it again.

Liss propped herself up on an elbow. ‘Close the window. Please. There’s nothing there.’

He ignored her again, eyes still searching the empty dark. Liss swung her legs over the bed, shuffling the covers from her bare body. She pulled him away from the window, wrenching its handle and slamming it shut.

It needed a strong arm, that window. Otherwise, she would hear it creaking all night long. On hot summer nights, the sound of the window’s whining had even seeped into her dreams. In the jumble of her sleeping mind, the creaking sometimes turned to hollow screams.

One good, strong slam did the job, though. Aaron winced at the sound, moving closer to the glass again. His breath made hot, damp clouds on the window.

‘There she is again,’ he said. ‘Underneath that tree.’

Liss didn’t look. She closed her eyes, trying to fight the frustration blooming in her chest. 

‘No-one’s there, Aaron.’

‘Of course there’s someone there,’ he said. Liss tried to ignore how his insistence made her organs feel misarranged in her body.

She let a memory float to the top of her mind: Aaron in high school, riding a marijuana high one Friday night, insisting they check every single cupboard in his mum and dad’s house for intruders squeezed in between linen and saucepans. Nothing has changed, Liss thought.

She ghosted her fingers across his shoulders, pressing a kiss to the spot where his bathrobe fell to reveal a square inch of skin.

‘Come back to bed. Please.’

‘I swear to you, Alissa.’ He swivelled around, his body jerking as he turned. His shoulder made sharp contact with Liss’ jaw and she groaned, cradling it in her hands.

‘Shit! I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to –’ His eyes, urgent and so deeply brown, flickered across her face. And then he turned back to the bloody window. ‘I’m not kidding, Liss.’

Liss rolled her eyes as she slipped in front of him to have a proper look. ‘For God’s sake.’ ­­­­­­­­­­­­

The front driveway was long and sprawling, stretching out – as long as a person could comfortably hold their breath – until it hit the main road. She pretended to humour him, just to get it over with. She scanned the paved driveway and rows of trees, the clusters of bushes and fencing that crowded the view.

‘It’s the same girl as last time. She’s blonde, remember? Little. Straight hair. One of those big, fluffy, black coats –’

Liss felt herself lean towards the window. Something moving. Behind Aaron’s car, parked neatly in front of the east wing extension. Down where the overgrown hedge leaned towards the house.

Tonight, the hedge shook. A brief shake, sure. But a stilted movement. Not elegant enough to be the wind. Behind her, Liss felt Aaron’s breath catch, his lungs hesitating before the exhale. Full and still, his chest pressed against her shoulder blades. The hedge shook again, a violent spasm.

But before Liss could weave her fingers between his, a pudgy possum scurried out from the hedge. It scampered across the ground with its glowing red eyes and disappeared again, into the darkness.

Liss felt herself deflate. Not just at the puncture of that brimming expectation, that rush of danger that had been close enough to lick. But also because she had let herself go for a flicker of a moment. For a heartbeat, she had been deluded. Just like him. Now that the adrenaline had melted away, she felt queasy knowing she had leant closer, knowing her fingers had drifted towards his.

‘You should go.’

Ciaran is a third-year Bachelor of Fine Arts Creative Writing/Bachelor of Laws student. She is fascinated by the complexities of everyday relationships and the darkness we hold inside ourselves. She loves exploring these themes through fiction and aspires to become a novelist. 

She can be found on Instagram at ciaran.elizabeth.