Wendy Jameson woke like she always did; grey eyes snapping open as she strained to hear a half forgotten tune that tickled the back of her mind. A second later her blaring alarm banished the whimsical melody and, with a sigh, Wendy slipped from her bed and padded barefoot and naked into the adjoining bathroom.
Already the day was getting warm and she wouldn’t be surprised if it reached mid thirties even though it was only late September. Her face in the mirror scowled back at her as she splashed cold water on her cheeks and then stood back to inspect the damage. A nasty purple bruise the shape of Australia coloured her thigh with Tasmania spotted just above her knee and around her upper arms were matching bands of blood blisters.
“Damn Tony, doesn’t know when to quit.” She twisted to see her back and prodded the pale blue bruise that resembled a lopsided snow flake. “And that lovely colour is courtesy of Sandra, I reckon.” She straightened, smiling. “But,” she said to her reflection, “I bet they’re sorer than I am.”
Slipping into a pair of shorts and a singlet, Wendy threw her hair up into a pony tail and decided to forgo her usual make-up routine. Instead she snagged her keys from the kitchen bench and hurried out barefoot, locking her door behind her. The soft white noise of waves became only louder as Wendy made her way along the rough bitumen road before turning down a sandy path leading to the beach, the cool sand squeaking between her toes. This early in the morning it was almost deserted. She could make out Lance and his bright green board bobbing in the surf and an older couple walking hand in hand between the grassy dunes, but she pretty much had the beach to herself.
A whuff and a wet nose made Wendy jump as Sammie, a local, offered her a stick to throw with a toothy grin.
“Well boy, just for a bit. Not all of us can be beach bums.” She pegged the stick into the surf and Sammie flicked up sand as he bounded after it. With a laugh, Wendy wiggled until she had a comfortable hollow the shape of her bum and shaded her eyes from the sun.
The rest of her day was spent doing nothing in particular: some washing, a little tidying, even calling her mum. After fixing an afternoon snack, Wendy stretched and then changed into her gi, still a little damp from the wash. She’d had to really do some scrubbing but at least she’d gotten the blood out. It was only a short drive to work and Joe was already behind the counter when she arrived.
“Sensei Wendy, bit early aren’t you?” he greeted. His gi was perfectly pressed as usual and, a little self conscious, Wendy subtly straightened her own. She hadn’t bothered to iron it, hoping it would sort itself out.
“Could say the same about you.” Wendy dumped her bag in a locker, grunting as she wedged it and and used her shoulder to make sure it clicked and locked shut. She tied her belt snugly round her waist and then headed to the dojo to warm up, bowing deeply and then bouncing lightly on the soft mats. She enjoyed the quiet time before class. She could focus and found she did her best thinking whilst standing before the multiple mirrors, reflecting her every movement. As she moved, flowing from one form to another, her students filtered in and with some regret she completed her final kata and turned.
She clapped her hands loudly and the class gathered before her in neat rows. Tony lifted one eyebrow at her in amusement from where he stood and Wendy smirked. Another deep bow and the class began.
Hours later, when Wendy climbed into bed that night, she was sore, tired but satisfied. With a grin she drifted off to sleep, a familiar tune tugging at her dreams.
Cathy Dover woke like she always did; with a stomach clenching drop, she fell out of bed. Zipper glanced at her with amusement from where she lay curled in the early morning sunshine, green eyes slowly blinking.
“I know, I know. It’s not like I do it on purpose.” With a grunt, Cathy heaved herself to her feet and wrapped her duvet around herself tightly before lumbering over to the window. It was almost too bright outside, fresh snow sparkling and making her eyes water and yet she still tugged her window open and leaned out. She loved the brisk cold air that filled her lungs and cleared her head of strange dreams.
“Cath! Have you got that window open again? It’s freezing!” An annoyed voice called out from the kitchen and with a smirk, Cathy slid the window closed and, still bundled up, made her way to where her roommate had put on a fresh pot of tea.
“It’s called fresh air, Deb. You should try it sometime,” Cathy teased as she poured herself some hot tea and inhaled its warmth.
“Well it may look nice now, but Dave from two doors down said that the clouds will be back in by lunch time.” Deb busied herself in packing lunch and then glanced up at her roommate. “Geez, Cath. You look horrible!”
“Geez, thanks Deb. I feel horrible, like someone’s beaten me all over with a bat,” she bent to see her reflection in the oven door and scowled as she poked the bags under her eyes with one long finger.
“Anyway,” Deb continued as she began layering up to head out, “You’ll be on your own all day. I have class until four.”
“You’ll still be there tonight, though, yeah? For the concert?” Cathy handed her friend her scarf looped over the back of her chair.
“Wouldn’t miss it,” Deb hugged her friend briefly and swooped up her book bag. “See ya,” she called back and bounced out the door.
Taking another sip of her tea, Cathy fed Zipper and then ambled into the tiny living area where her piano took up an entire wall. Kicking aside bean bags and cracking open the window, Cathy settled her mug on a pile of sheet music and gracefully ran her fingers across the keys. Warming up with a couple of scales, she shrugged her duvet off her shoulders and settled in to practice. Her tea quickly became cold.
That evening she sat nervously, trying to ignore the audience that was hidden in the bright lights focused on her. Deb was out there somewhere like she promised. The stage was raised so it was impossible to see any faces. She squared her shoulders and lightly rested her fingers upon ivory keys. After the first note, her mind forgot everything but the music and with a soft smile she did what she did best.
When Cathy climbed into bed that night, she was stiff, tired, but satisfied. Zipper curled up against her back and with fingers playing an imaginary keyboard, she was quickly asleep.
“Sensei-ni rei,” Tony announced formally, his voice deep and respectful. In unison, the class faced Wendy with hands firmly clasped to their sides and feet together.
“Arigato gozaimasu,” their voices rang out as they bowed. Wendy returned the bow and as she straightened, she caught Tony’s eye. Her lips twitched in a smile.
He was waiting for her after she changed, leaning nonchalantly against the counter as he chatted with Joe. Wendy took a moment to admire him, hair spiky from the sweaty work out and limbs lean and strong. She blushed when he caught her looking.
“See you Tuesday, Joe,” Tony said as he pushed himself upright and took Wendy’s bag for her. He grunted at the surprising weightiness of it and she innocently grinned.
“Pretending to be a gentleman, are you?” She teased as she pushed open the door and headed out into the car park.
“Is it working?” Tony asked as he followed her to her little Corolla, looking a little worse for wear with its different coloured bonnet and crumpled fender. The sun was just setting and Wendy bit back a yawn, slipping her sunnies on for the drive home. Her favourite show would be starting soon and a glass of Chardonnay was calling her name, and yet she lingered, watching Tony as he shuffled his feet.
“Do you want it to?” She asked and suddenly she recalled a moment during the ninth grade when Sam Davis scuffed his school shoes in a very similar way. Her friends had been laughing at the poor kid, a foot shorter than Wendy, and yet in his hands were a small box of chocolates and a slightly wilted bunch of flowers. The memory made her wince.
“Yeah. I guess I do.” He glanced up at her with blue eyes and a slightly crooked grin.
“Is this your way of asking me out for dinner?” Wendy asked.
“Is tonight a bad time?”
Wendy left her little beat up car out the front of the dojo, slipping into Tony’s leather upholstered Mazda and breathed in deeply. Her chest felt light and her fingers tapped against her ratty jeans nervously. She’d not been on a date since…well that was a long time ago. Her mum would say it was about bloody time.
Tony switched on the head lights and Wendy removed her sunnies as the last of the sunlight disappeared into the trees, leaving the world in a pale shade of blue. She briefly wondered if it was wrong for her to be dating a student and then quickly dismissed it. They’d been dancing about this, whatever this was, for months now and it had yet to make anything awkward in class.
The car gently purred to life and Tony braced himself against the back of her chair to reverse out, his eyes darting to her face briefly. Now that things were happening, really happening, he had no more clue than she did. That, strangely enough, was comforting.
“So, what music do you like?” Wendy asked, leaning forward to play with his radio. Five-Oh Plus warbled across the silence and Wendy snorted in surprise. “I had you pegged as a country western fan.” Tony ducked his head but Wendy couldn’t tell if he was blushing or not.
“It reminds me of my Nan. All the stories she used to tell me about her when she was young: growing up, all the dancing and parties. This music is just from another world.” He indicated and pulled into a driveway. Overgrown trees shrouded the entry and a tiny green light lit up the front porch of a sandstone house, its arching roof of moss mottled tiles and the windows embellished with wrought iron.
“Welcome to my humble abode,” Tony said, all shyness disappearing as he gave Wendy a cheeky look. “Let me give you the tour.”
“I smell like fish.” Cathy grumbled. She slumped further into her chair. Deb rolled her eyes as she cleaned her plate with three sharp taps.
“You could cook, you know.”
Cathy traced the sharp grooves in their table top with one finger as she scowled.
“Well we know how that worked out the last time.”
“Then stop whinging then.”
“I will when you stop getting fish from Tom! Just cos it’s free doesn’t mean we have to eat it for every bloody meal.” Cathy sniffed her forearm and wrinkled her nose. “Don’t care how you disguise it,” she added and began poking at the remaining fish stew that she’d enjoyed immensely but there was no way she’d tell Deb that.
“Yeah, well I cooked, you clean.” The phone rang and Deb brightened. “That’ll be Tom.” She blushed slightly, tucking hair behind her ears and smoothing her skirt.
“You do know he can’t see you on the phone, right?” Cathy smirked and her roommate ignored her, hurrying to answer the phone in the other room. Cathy swept Zipper up onto her lap and chuckled as the cat began to rasp her skin with a rough tongue. “You think I smell like fish too.”
“I heard that!” Deb called out over the ringing before answering with a perky hello. Cathy fed Zipper a piece of fish and grabbed a post-it note, scribbling down a line of music.
“It’s for you.” Cathy reappeared, disappointed and holding the phone against her chest.
“Me? Who’d wanna call me? Who is it?”
“Didn’t say,” Deb said, “but don’t talk too long, okay? Tom said he’d call.” She retreated to the living room and TV voices began mumbling.
“Is this Catherine?” It was a man’s voice, musical and deep.
“Cathy, I like that.”
“Who’s this?” Cathy asked, pushing Zipper away from her plate and receiving an annoyed glare. She stuck her post-it note on her cup of tea to remember it.
“I saw your concert last Wednesday. Your form is impeccable.”
“Is this about that interview? Sam Jones gave you this number, didn’t he?” Sam Jones had been persistent but in a kind of flattering way. “I thought he was done with his questions?”
“I couldn’t take my eyes off you. You played my favourite, Fantasy Impromptu in c sharp minor.”
Cathy paused, Zipper taking the opportunity to steal more scraps and slink off.
“But I didn’t play Chopin at the Concert.”
“You wore that little dress,” the voice grew softer, more intense, “with the red flowers. Do you know you bite your lip on the final crescendo?”
“Who is this?” Cathy hissed, her knuckles pulsing bone white as she gripped the phone.
“Cathy, play for me.”
Cathy jerked the phone away, hanging up with a violent jerk and then tossed the phone across the table.
“Cath?” Deb called from the living room.
“Just a wrong number.”
“Juice?” Tony asked as Wendy wandered into the kitchen with a sleepy, yet smug, look on her face. It was almost ten and the air con was humming away leaving goose bumps across Wendy’s bare skin. She tugged his shirt close around her with one hand whilst running the other through her hair. She’d slept very well last night despite being woken up at some unearthly hour for round two.
“Juice would be divine.” She settled on one of the backless seats at the breakfast bar and traced the marble swirls in the table top. Tony, deliciously shirtless, busied himself pouring her a tall glass and then turned back to the pancakes.
“Hope you like blueberries.” Tony winked over a shoulder and Wendy returned the smile.
“Love ‘em. This is all very…domestic,” Wendy smirked as she fiddled with the little radio shaped like a spaceship and soft crooning blues filled the kitchen.
“Well it won’t happen too often so you should make the most of it.”
“I plan to,” Wendy saucily whispered as she wrapped her arms round his waist and rested her head against his shoulder, watching him cook.
“Speaking of plans, what are yours for the day?”
“I’m free as a bird. Have anything in mind?” Wendy stole a blueberry and lifted herself up onto the counter, enjoying the cool marble against the backs of her legs.
“Well, thought dinner maybe, catch a show in the city? There’s a cool Jazz club I’m sure you’ll like.”
The pancakes were flipped onto the plate, stained purple and blue and drizzled with syrup. They ate with giggles, sticky fingers and kisses.
After a shower, Wendy wandered through the neat mess of Tony’s house and peered at photos and certificates in frames.
“You studied music at uni?” She called out, not quite sure where he’d disappeared to.
“Yup, I majored in composition and musicology.” His voice drifted from a room Wendy hadn’t managed to see during Tony’s very brief house tour the night before. “I’m a sound producer for a company that does a lot of work for TV and radio.”
She pulled her hair up into a loose pony tail, following the sound of a quiet tune that was vaguely familiar and whistled appreciatively as she stepped into the room.
The studio was exploding with amps, computers, wiring and musical instruments including an old upright piano, half covered with piles of papers and a flute or two. She pushed down one key and grinned as the note rang out.
“You play?” She asked.
“Guitar, drums, cello and saxophone. Not piano I’m afraid. My sister does though. That’s hers. Her apartment’s too small to swing a cat let alone have a piano.”
He rattled off a few more words on his keyboard and then leant back.
“Do you play?” He asked.
“Nope. Did a little as a child though. I was the master of Chopsticks. Preferred climbing trees than sitting still long enough for a lesson.”
His mobile rang and he answered with a soft smile on his lips as he watched Wendy run her fingers lightly over the piano.
“Who was it?” She asked as he hung up with an annoyed snort.
Cathy’s head hit the bus window with a thud, throwing her into full wakefulness with a stomach clenching lurch. She’d fallen asleep. She never fell asleep on the bus. She peered through the windows with cupped hands, trying to see where she was in the darkness. Heavy clouds had ushered in an early evening but she was relieved to see she’d only slept through two stops and the distance was easy enough to walk. She reached up, careful to keep her satchel on one shoulder and pulled the cable before easing herself into the aisle.
Other passengers dozed or stared glassy eyed at her as she lurched and stumbled towards the doors and was released into the cold air with a hiss. Her shoes crunched the snow under her feet and Cathy hastily rewrapped her scarf round her neck more securely and buttoned up her coat. As soon as she got moving, she’d get warm. Tugging her beanie down on her forehead, Cathy began trudging up the gently sloping path, straining to see her apartment that stuck out like a sore thumb on its better days. The naked trees framing the encroaching building did nothing to hide its 1980’s charm. She pulled out her mobile and punched in Deb’s number with fat knitted fingers and grumbled when she only got her answering machine. She’d forgotten Tom was taking Deb out for dinner, which meant she had to fend for herself tonight.
“Well,” she muttered to herself, “least I nailed Sleepers.” The haunting melody cascaded inside her head in sudden bursts and swirling eddies, her fingers twitching to a slightly out of synch beat. Even Deb didn’t know she’d finally completed her major composition and the sheet music was written in her careful hand, all the strings of triads, minims and quavers together for the first time as had only ever existing in snatches in random note books, post-its and on the back of envelopes. Before leaving the studio she’d hastily scanned and emailed a copy to a friend along with a recording. She’d long learnt the hard way the horror of freak weather, leaving bags on buses and Zipper’s knack for chewing on paper.
An overheard street light flickered and Cathy sped up, surprised at how dark it had already gotten, finally making out the familiar block of flats, Mrs Harris’ Christmas lights bright on the third floor. The lights were off in her flat but she wasn’t concerned. She was eager to play Sleepers once more and maybe she’d order take-away as a bit of a reward. Lord knew she deserved it.
Cathy wearily watched a broad shouldered man pass her on the other side of the street heading back the way she’d come but he seemed to pay her no mind. After that phone call, she’d been nervous being out on her own but, with a deep breath, she shook off the fears and dug around in her pocket for the house keys. Finding them triumphantly, she tossed a look over her shoulder and started. The man had crossed the road and was now behind her, following her. She wanted to run. She could see the front doors, glowing comfortingly, only twenty or so metres away and with the key ready she hurried, slipping the key in smoothly and heaving the door open.
A heavy force slammed the door shut. Cathy gave a scream but a warm hand pressed itself across her lips whilst another wrapped itself around her waist, tugging her away from safety. Her keys dropped with a clatter and, struggling, Cathy bit down hard on one wool covered finger. The man cursed and Cathy twisted away, her shoes slipping briefly on the wet pavement before gaining purchase. She sprinted, feet slapping hard as she inhaled through blinding tears. She didn’t know where she’d dropped her keys and it would take too long to search for them. Instead she slipped between two dumpsters down the side of the building and headed for the stairs that led to the underground car park. Dave from two doors down had been complaining to Deb and her only just the other week saying that someone in the building kept leaving the door open in the parking garage. That was her way in. If she could make it, she’d be safe.
Cathy risked a glance back and sobbed, the man was gaining. His teeth white in the gloom. He was enjoying this! A game. As his hand wrapped around Cathy’s arm, she knew he’d won.
“So what are you working on?” Wendy asked, curling up on the piano seat with one leg tucked under her and resting her chin on her other knee. Tony sat with one speaker from his headphones pressed to his ear whilst he tapped out a complicated beat with a drumstick against his desk. The rat-a-tat-tat was strangely hypnotic.
“Lots of stuff. I’m a very busy person you know,” he grinned, glancing up at her.
“Uhuh. Sure doesn’t look that way.”
“Well usually I’m composing something or other but at the moment I’m checking a piece for a friend of mine. She sent it through last night.”
“Can I hear it?” Wendy asked, tapping her foot restlessly.
“As long as you promise not to steal it. This piece is three years in the making,” Tony said mockingly stern and unplugged his head phones, switching on the speakers. A soft buzz filled the room.
“Three years? Ouch.” Wendy wrinkled up her nose. “I can’t imagine being that dedicated.”
“Just listen. It’s something else.”
With a few keystrokes, Tony leant back in his chair as the melody trickled across her senses, slightly tinny but clear all the same. It began slow, pulling and pushing like waves on a deserted shore. Soft like whispers that gradually grew stronger until the piano was shouting in semi-quavers that tumbled across each other at an ever increasing pace. A key change raised the hairs on Wendy’s arms as the haunting tune grew more complex as if it was being folded in on itself again and again. Wendy’s breath caught in her throat just as the speaker screeched and Tony swore, killing the sound. The silence that followed was heavy.
“What happened?” Wendy whispered, distracted as the song swirled around her mind.
“File was corrupted. Damn. The climax was the best bit.” Tony grumbled, fingers tapping across his keyboard furiously.
“It reminds me of a dream I once had,” Wendy murmured, twisting to face the piano and with one finger gently playing a note. Another followed. The song in her head pressed against her eyes until it burst from her finger tips until both hands were playing. Softly, like an echo, the piece was replicated with each note sure and steady. The key change occurred flawlessly and began to build to the climax, the pressure in the room expanding until Wendy could barely breathe and then, like a bubble popping, the music peaked and softened, becoming hazy as if it were a dream. The last note rang out and Wendy’s hands stilled, her eyes focused on the ivory and black keys.
“What does she call it?” Wendy’s voice broke the silence. “Your friend, I mean.”
“Sleepers,” Tony said, shoulders trembling slightly as he stared at her in shock. “She calls it Sleepers.”
Cathy sobbed, wanting to scream but the man had a firm hold of her scarf around her throat, twisting it and making it hard for her to breathe.
“Please,” she whimpered, “please don’t hurt me.”
His other arm snaked around her waist, yanking her close as he leant down, whispering soothing words as if she was a spooked animal. He gently pushed her forward, leading her past the dumpsters and away from the lit garage, her satchel abandoned with her life’s work.
A car was parked opposite her apartment, the engine running and the lights off. He’d been waiting for her, planning this all along. Her heart raced but with every step closer to the car, her mind surprisingly cleared and her body hummed, tense with anticipation. She waited.
The man released her scarf to open the passenger door and instead of pushing against him, she lurched forward. He swore, stumbling as he lost his balance whilst his grip around her waist shifted. Not pausing, Cathy stomped on his foot, twisting her hips to the side and striking down hard with a rigid shutō-uchi. Her attacker released her with a sudden exhalation, hunching over with a grunt and stumbling back. Using his momentum, Cathy grabbed his right arm and with a swift sokuto kekomi to the back of his right knee, he dropped to the ground with a resounding crack, snow soaking into his jeans. For the first time Cathy was able to see her attacker clearly under the street lights. His hair was short and dark, chin and cheeks covered in stubble that looked like bruising, and his neck thick, hands stocky. He looked like a normal guy.
She yanked back on his hair and wrapped one arm around his throat in a chokehold, bracing her hand against her other arm. Smoothly, without any hesitation, she pushed her free hand down against the back of his head, steadily increasing the pressure on his trachea.
He tried to struggle. His fists flailed, striking the car, her cheek, a knee and some ribs but she held firm. When he stopped moving, she let go, his body slumping into the gutter. Cathy stepped back, eyes wide and hands shaking.
He looked as if he was sleeping.