Everyone was saying it'd hit 40°C tomorrow, a truer marker of summer’s arrival than a pinch and a punch on the 1st December. But I was leaving today. Bags packed, ready. A last smoke on the balcony before the taxi would pull up below. Right now on Scott Base somebody was probably typing my name into all the necessary [NAME HERE] gaps in the arrivals documentation, but by the time I’d be in a position to sign along the final dotted line it'd be too late to back out. Flights out of NZ’s base in Antarctica leave every second Tuesday morning and book up more than a month in advance. There are no flights at all from February through to August.
I had nowhere else to go anyway, the spare key to her apartment kicked under her door three weeks ago.
Within just a handful of days of each other, we’d somehow both of us slept with other people. "Slept with." What a frigid way to put it. Of course I do mean ****** – the sleeping part simply an awkward optional accompaniment to the consequentials. So, we’d both of us ****** other people, and although nothing was said the weight of the truth buzzed between us, unsettling and persistent.
I’m unsure which of us had gone first. I imagine it was ladies before gentlemen.
It was six years ago that I‘d followed her over to Australia, six years ago that she'd looked up over some textbook and said with a smirk that she'd never dreamed she’d let a man with such "offensive paws" anywhere near her, let alone fall for him.
It's true that within a few weeks of starting my apprenticeship my hands were stained black, with slow-healing sores opening up between the fingers, and the crusts of tired eczema aggravated by the incessant and optimistically futile scrub of soap. I was known for leaving behind dark smudges around light switches. But she hadn't seemed to mind my leaving soft fingerprints on her.
“D’you think there’s any language that's got sufficient words for all the different kinds of love? Like the Inuit and all their words for snow?”
I took a tray of ice cubes from the freezer, held her wrists behind her back with my right hand, and tipped the frozen cubes down the front of her warm and crumpled shirt.
And then? And then.
I won't detail the cruel and gradual tilt apart, increasing degree by degree up over the years, sliding us into roles and positions neither could recognise ourselves in. Mutually check-mated. What better way to tip the chessboard than start playing with somebody else.
The day she left her computer on and Gmail logged in the first grass fires of the season were reported in the north of Victoria, and the Bureau of Meteorology was predicting yet another “hottest summer on record.” I could only read the top three messages from him and her responses before logging off.
I hadn't even thought to ask for any somebody else's email address.
I grabbed my own laptop and opened a new browser. Google: jobs antarctica.
My best mate and I had dropped out of high school together to be taken on as plumbing apprentices: petrol and beer money in exchange for bubonic hands. At some point during those early days of drain and dame laying I came across a profile piece in the NZ Plumber about a guy who'd done a 12 month stint at Scott Base. Back then I’d doubted that I'd ever become the kind of man who could survive the snow and ice and dawnless darkness of a polar night.