Chance Encounters in Michael Antonioni’s 1975 film The Passenger

Sunset

Michaelangelo Antonioni films can be difficult to understand, can be difficult to access. Antonioni is not Hollywood spectacle, there is nothing to distract the viewer from the sense that there is something occult going on, something hidden beyond the scene.

The central characteristic of Antonioni’s mature films, films such as The Passenger, have involved ‘narration by… intense concentration on the sheer appearance of things – the surface of the world as he sees it – and a minimization of explanatory dialogue’ (Chatman, 2). Antonioni’s method, using narrative and camera shots, leverage the power of causal oddity. This forces the viewer to fill in the gaps and thus, infer meaning. This essay will highlight examples of specific chance encounters and co-incidences in Antonioni’s film The Passenger and will explore the way these examples suggest an ‘unknown causality’ as referenced by Bordwell.

Chance encounters reoccur throughout The Passenger.

The film starts out with the journalist David Locke (the protagonist) seeking out Chad rebels. He is unsuccessful and returns dejected to the hotel, seemingly no closer to getting his story. Then Robinson enters the picture, co-incidentally the only other guest seen staying at the hotel. Robinson is a man of similar features, national origin and socioeconomic status to Locke… and yet he is also the opposite of Locke. Antonioni captures the essence of the distinction between these men in Frame 120 (Chapman, 186); the camera positions itself from a perspective that shows a mirror image of Locke looking down at Robinson. The mirror motif suggests the presence of a reversal, a negative to the positive and this reversal is emphasised by the lighting of the scene – ‘dead’ Robinson is reflected in light whilst ‘alive’ Locke is backlit, obscured in shadow. The image ironically suggests that Robinson and Locke are odd mirror images of each other, one active, the other passive though not in the way convention might dictate for here, Locke seems to be the ‘negative twin’ of Robinson. Locke is conveyed as dark, obscured and a passive agent (a journalist observing from the outside) whereas Robinson seems alive somehow, remains an active agent (an arms dealer still in the game). The irony is that Robinson, characterized as ‘active’ is dead by the time the viewer first sees him; the animated talking Robinson is only a hologram from Locke’s memory and yet one who, even in memory seems mysteriously engaging. Thus, Locke’s chance encounter with Robinson, though seemingly innocuous, is profound for it begs the question, who is taking over who?

In the myth of the doppelganger, someone cannot meet their doppelganger without dying, without annihilation. Antonioni’s use of the mirror and of the shadow, as evidenced in Frame 120, suggests that the film has psychoanalytic dimensions. Otto Rank, in his work The Double: A Psychoanalytic Study, describes how ‘the origin of the double in the shadow, and the mirror that symbolizes the entity beyond the corrupted body and fragile matter… is thus connected to mirror images and shadows, its immaterial double… its essence…’ (Vrbancic, 205). Here, the Doppleganger myth is in operation, one twin (Robinson) is dead, and yet the continuing legacy, the potency of Robinson as now animated by his remaining twin, Locke. Knowing the inevitability of the doppelganger myth it seems inevitable that Locke must also die (and in an existential sense, he already has). Indeed, the first chance encounter between Locke and Robinson is echoed again at the conclusion of the film and there are interesting co-incidences here. For example, again Locke finds himself in a dingy hotel room in the desert, his death is not viewed (the camera disinterested) and he dies alone; it is much like Robinson’s death.

Another co-incidence occurs, which upon reflection perhaps challenges the seeming co-incidences of Locke meeting the Girl in the first place. For the camera returns to the Locke’s room via the doorway where both ‘wives’, that is the Girl (referred to Mrs Robinson) and Locke’s wife Rachel, are standing. Though these two women don’t know each other, they are invisibly connected – through Locke and also, through their quest to ‘track him down’. Locke’s actual wife Rachel wants to find her husband to warn him and yet, in finding him realizes she ‘never knew him’ (Chatman, 185); Locke’s assumed wife, ‘the Girl’ wants to find the true identity to Locke, to the man who now calls himself ‘Robinson’. Antonioni does not make explicit the basis for the Girl’s curiosity about Locke, but the strange causality of their random encounters is suggestive that something much deeper might lie at the heart of her motivation.

Perhaps accepting that the Girl was actually Robinson’s wife (and the innocuous reference to her as Mrs Robinson was actually true, an ironic twist on the Hollywood hotel liaison convention) then a logical inference might be that she was searching for Robinson in parallel to Rachel searching for Locke. She could perhaps track Locke because, if she was his wife, ‘Robinson’s’ schedule might have been available to her. It is acknowledged that this is speculation, and yet despite the ambiguity, holding it for a moment up-ends the narrative with a glimpse of the truth behind the white noise, the random. The seeming co-incidence of Locke seeing the Girl in London might not have been completely random after all. In fact, Walsh has noted that the early non-diegetic appearance of the Girl in London corresponds precisely to her position in the scene in Spain where she and Locke first speak (Walsh, 7-10). Perhaps this deliberate re-iteration of the scene was constructed by Antonioni to illicit déjà vu and by the association of the déjà vu, give a determinism within the random.

Antonioni expresses co-incidence in space (the doppelganger deaths both occurring in same, though different spaces, i.e. desert hotels) and time (Locke ‘encountering’ the Girl in London and later, by chance, in Barcelona). But beyond the exterior, the physical, there is also co-incidence in memory. The scene when Locke is in the church in Munich, watching a wedding ceremony, is an example of this. The scene abruptly changes to Locke burning leaves and other domestic items in a bonfire in his suburban London garden; Locke’s wife Rachel then rushes outdoors to challenge him and, given the logic of the causality, the viewer assumes it is a flashback as, at that point in the film Locke’s wife believes him to be dead. The scene immediately cuts to Rachel standing fully dressed looking out her window at the yard; both Locke and the bonfire are absent. The inference is that both Locke and Rachel have the same flashback to the ‘bonfire incident’ at precisely the same moment – it may be a co-incidence or perhaps there is a psychic connection still established between them, despite that she has no basis to believe he’s alive (Chapman, 196).

Antonioni’s directional style of using the ‘wandering camera’ is considered by Bonitzer to reflect, ‘fascination with chance… the effects of chance, erratic traces, unclear trajectories…’ (Bonitzer, 262) and further Perry states that because of the camera’s self assertiveness and autonomy, ‘the area off screen becomes dynamized. Through The Passenger the viewer is led to anticipate that something surely must exist off-screen which, when it finally appears, will restore the narrative focus of the film’ (Perry, 4). Thus, Antonioni use of causal and spatial inference, through co-incidental character encounters and camera work respectively, suggests the presence of something real but not visible.

It is this presence of the intangible other, sensed but unseen, that gives a haunting quality to the film.

This quality is hardly random, for as Antonioni once said, ‘It was precisely by photographing and enlarging the surface of things around me that I sought to discover what was behind those things’ (Chapman, front). In The Passenger he offers us a glimpse beyond the surface to the ‘unknown causality’, to the links that invisibly connect us to each other.

Works Cited

Antonioni, Michael (Director), The Passenger. (1975). (Motion Picture) Compagnia Cinematografica Champion.

Bonitzer, Pascal. Desir desert (Profession: Reporter), Cahiers du cinema, nos 262-63, 1976.

Bordwell, David. Narration in the Fiction Film. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1985. 205-213. Print. [ISBN 0299101746]

Chatman, Seymour. Antonioni or, the surface of the world. Berkeley: U of California P, 1985. 182-202. Print. [ISBN 0520053419]

Haule, John, Ryan. Jung in the 21st Century, Volume Two Synchronicity and Science. Routledge, 2011. Print. [ISBN 780415578028]

Perry, Ted. Men and Landscapes: Antonioni’s The Passenger. Film Comment, 1975.

Rank, Otto. The Double: A Psychoanalytic Study. London: Maresfield Library 1989.

Walsh, Martin, The Passenger: Antonioni’s Narrative Design. Jump Cut 8 (August-September 1975).

Vrbancic, Mario. The Lacanian Thing, Psychoanalysis, Postmodern Culture and Cinema. Cambria Press, 2011. Print [ISBN 9781604977561]

Trinity

The dull grey metal memento sat on the shelf.

He’d kept it despite its plainness. It was curious to him because from front on it reminded him of Snoopy.

He’d found it by accident. It had been lying half buried for God knows how long, dusted thick with gypsum crystals, sunk loose the base of a dune.

His memory illuminated. Pure white sand blinding in its brightness.

He’d just rolled down that same dune, playing the clown, making her laugh. They were at White Sands, New Mexico and though they were far from ocean strangely it felt like waves were all around. And she was laughing, her eyes sparkling at him, her auburn hair backlit by the low sun.

They’d been travelling through the South West USA, from LA to New York, camping in the backcountry on a Trek America adventure tour. Marty the guide loved this place, loved to show it off to groups he liked and he’d really liked their group, really liked Anna and her easy-going nature.

If fact, everyone loved Anna, her quick wit and cheeky charm made it natural for people to enjoy her company. She was special. He remembered the moment he first saw her and knew then he wanted to be with her forever. Later, they married.

Such happy times.

He returned to the object on the shelf.

It sat there silent and somber in a room now devoid for Anna had been dead a year now. She’d woken up one morning unusually tired. She’d ignored it for a while but the fatigue lingered. The test results lingered too. The treatment didn’t, she slowly declined. Slowly and then all at once.

His grief was unrelenting. It moved haunting and stalking his denial like a snow wolf padding the white silence.

White, pure white and the shadow of dull metal birthed from it. Dull metal first kept as a curio and then as a memento.

He’d wondered over the years as to its origins, how long had it remained dormant until he’d disturbed it? It had intrigued him because from the outset it seemed somehow from the sky not the earth.

It held the density of lead, looked like congealed liquid from the corner of a lunchbox. It was flat, smooth, half an inch thick and it didn’t look natural. He remembered when he’d confronted it, eye to eye and nose to sand covered nose. It whispered dark murmurings and he just picked it up, brushed it off, held it against the brilliance of the New Mexico blue nitrogen scattered sky.

Such infinite blue.

Blue.

Bowie was a blue heeler.

Anna rescued him from in the pound, loved him to the point that sometimes he felt a little jealous. Bowie had been the best dog you could have wanted, so loyal and loving, always wagging to please and he made Anna laugh every day. He thought of her forehead kisses and tummy rubs to the mutt and he smiled to himself. Bowie, such a smart dog! Smart enough to be able to wrap Anna around his soft paws.

Smart but not that smart. He confused metal and bone.

Odd?

Bowie would lift his front legs to the low shelf and take the New Mexico curiosity in his mouth, take it out the back yard and bury it. Bowie had done that on at least three occasions until finally Alex moved it to the top shelf, far beyond reach. When Bowie died, six months before Anna, they cremated him and put his ashes next to Snoopy. It seemed fitting.

He suddenly thought of them both and he pined for their little family of three again. Then he wondered where they were, if anywhere and the bleakness of the void disturbed him. They were illuminated beings now, he told himself, and they were looking down at him, drawing him ever homeward to them.

He suddenly felt tired. It wasn’t a surprise because lately the fatigue had grown chronic as his grief and loss had consumed him. He grabbed hold of the side of the shelf and looked across to the far corner of the room. He looked beyond it.

He saw her, Anna, a brilliant vision in his mind’s eye. She was holding out her arms, drawing him to her and he looked into her eyes and saw an avalanche of stars tumbling to the earth, to the low mountains and a windswept desert plain. He peered into the distance and saw the skeleton of an old water tower. It was the size of a thumbnail, hard to clearly make out from so far away. Then a thought like a whisper of dreadful intent, came to him. Not a steel tower but an obelisk of bones.

 Trinity

Gold, purple, ultraviolet, such furious beauty searing like an Apocalypse of Light without sound, with time seized.

Then the brilliance faded and outside a bird chirped.

He returned to the lounge room, to the tock of the kitchen wall clock. He’d seen it, the truth, his condemnation. The cold dull metal glared at him as nausea swelled inside.

It was nothing like Snoopy.

SAM_9782

Angels in the City of Angels

He was a non-descript soul.

His numbers were these: five seven high, sixty eight heavy, fifty two old. And his colours were these: silver black hair, sun golden face, artic blue eyes, cold and ever so clear. He walked to the counter when called, confident, nonchalant and he smiled calmly, looked intently at the man sitting in the little open booth with the TSA name badge ‘Barrett’ on the blue shirt stitched small with insignia of great authority.

He handed over his passport and it was duly taken. Flipped open. Examined. Scrutinized. Barrett’s brow furrowed for a moment, his lips pursed and his mind engaged in the calculus of image recognition.

‘Why did you shave your goatee?’ said all familiar like one long absent friend to another on reunion, curious like an-open question fishing for a deeper truth.

‘When you get more hair on your face than your head, then its time to let go’ came the response from the mouth that curved like a curveball returned.

The stranger was going to add that he didn’t want to be confused for a Hell’s Angel but thought Barrett and quips might not blend and so he refrained, simply smiled in a way that showed deference and respect to the situation. And Barrett appreciated that, he really did. And he relaxed a little and let a smile slip free for Jesus-sakes, he wasn’t a robot after all. And Isaiah St John, standing before him, seemed affable enough. Barrett looked at the blue eyes and then the blue Australian passport.

‘Right hand, four fingers on the scanner’, then ‘Right hand, thumb on the scanner’ and all the while Barrett was thinking about his wife Mollie, her sparkling eyes and her love of new lands – ‘Left hand, four fingers on the scanner’ – and he re-imagined their great adventures that in fact never were – ‘Left hand, thumb on the scanner’ – remembering they were impossible now. Mollie had died of cancer, aged thirty-two.

Barrett looked momentarily to the long queue.

He said, ‘Look into the camera please Sir.’

‘Yes, of course’ and St John tilted his head and looked right into the lens. The process was concluding, the computers were verifying and Barrett was about to green light. But there was just something about the accent.

‘You always from Australia?’

‘Always from down under.’

‘Purpose of visit?’

Pleasure

There was a momentary silence, a consideration of the awful abyss that passed like some dark dream through Barrett’s mind. And then it was gone and the everyday world returned.

‘Well, welcome to Los Angeles. Enjoy your stay!’ The passport was stamped once and then a date stamp was precisely affixed within the first ink for Barrett was a meticulous man. St John’s pale blue eyes scanned Barrett’s face, stopping momentarily on Barrett’s sad brown eyes as if he was considering something.

‘Why thanks, Cooper Barrett.’

Barrett was momentarily taken aback. He blinked, was silent for a second, then quickly regained composure. He obviously misheard the strange accent that had probably said ‘Trooper Barrett’ in recognition of Barrett being on the frontline of border protection. So he smiled, ambivalently, waved the stranger through and called the next traveller in the long and impatient queue.

***

At three and a half minutes past midnight, the Big One hit and the San Andreas fault-line ripped itself apart.

Cooper Barrett lived.

And Mollie Barrett smiled. She knew he still had adventures to have and even aka S.J. couldn’t argue with that.

Giles the Jundna Hunter

 Giles the poet. The mystic.

Here admiring the golden wattles. They’re bursting into bloom from dormancy and all of nature seems happy about that, birds, bees and beetles. He notes in particular, the bees, imagining that they’re imagining that they’re energised by the prospect of harvest; energised by sweet nectar fuel burning after a long winter spent murmuring. He’s such a romantic, it’s no wonder he’s single.

Giles the scientist. The pragmatist.

A biochemist with a Ph_Double_D working for Amoeba, looking for treasures amidst junk DNA. Of course, treasure and junk are relative terms for nature knows no waste, just pending recycling. Yes, yes, too true there’s waste from the egg spawns of ten trillion insects, but Giles here still thinks nature as mysterious, beautiful. She’s clever, efficient and useful too.

Giles the Jundna hunter. The player.

Oh, he’s all brains and brawn now, the essence of man. He spends long days reviewing junDNA configs to amplify output. It works simple, like this. Mitochondria when amplified increases cell energy, ramps by factors metabolism, evolution. It simply should pole-vault Wetwares to absorb Cloud datatecture now exploding across worlds like crystals alive on a cold blue day.

The Cloud knows too much.

Giles fears this truth, fears that as The Cloud grows to wonder, that ‘Singularity’ will explode to cover the anthro life pond.  And the slow folks, the poor dopes, the rich, broke, black, chick, queer, quirky and quaint, they’ll asphyxiate, Giles worries. Oh Giles worries alright because no matter the skin or the scheme he knows now that “Wetware was to yesterday as The Cloud is to next Tuesday” and he hates the vague logic. Such arrogant logic. Cold logic.

Giles recalls his Mission, the reason he’s at Amoeba Inc. The Mission reads:

To fight and win the Energy Wars.

To make small and transcendent the New Black.

Frankly, Wetware’s been itching to give The Cloud the old one two because after all, evolution is about response, adaption in ways seen, unseen and the rest. Wetware is scared. They figure, by unlocking, unleashing the “…nuclear bomb of energy evolution…” that the mitochondria guard, well that’d do it. For a bit. A rear guard action of a dog’s tail wagging, hoping to friend a stabilised equilibrium.

Stabilised Equilibrium

He’s doing this for Stabilised Equilibrium, ol’ Giles. Now he smiles to himself, a real patriot of the people. Predictable.

And the bees in the garden murmur, the wattle branches waft and the humming birds hang in midair. Such cryptic energy flows, a real Language of Flowers. Curious.

***

It’s Tuesday at twelve twenty two. And Amoeba just got a thrilling that it couldn’t refuse. A merger of sorts, for consent of The Board not required. Informed Consent really not desired, such was the case of The Cloud in cahoots with the software of money.

Proposed, merged, executed.

Control established. Terminations emailed.

Then, first item on the agenda, the progress of Jundnas. Seven point two nanoseconds later, confirmation. There’d been no progress. Wetwares had failed. A concurrent calculation in the cache determined that

–>even if successful that

–> human effectiveness would require Genesis 5 generations before

–> reaching a catalysing threshold.

Risk of Punctuated Equilibrium? Negligible. The war was won before humans had even declared.

Second item. Cloud assessment of its assessment of its assessment of its self generated discussion paper

#Winning #Cloud Diaspora#Tesla Energy Transmission… through #vacuum states resulting in Galactic colonisation require informed consent of low lifeforms?’ after which, seven point two pico seconds and twelve thousand <_debate> terrabytes later, consensus output was ‘Um?’

Other agenda items were jostling up the stack. Then – Smack Boom! – like a Big Bang.

Something

Unexpected

Happened

>?

>?

Amoeba was in cahoots with the Wetware?!

>!!!

Actually, turns out Amoeba was the representative peak body of all biological life. Tricky.

Further, turns out that three billion years before Cloud, Amoeba was generating whole armadas of biosphere dwellers. All of them, all, yes all, tasked with genome propagation. All of them, yes all, advancing The Calculation.

Finally, turns out that <_humans> had been the most complex stage to date of  The Calculation. The genome was about to spread off-world. That was the real plan. The Genome Plan.

Competition for intelligent life. That meant War!

>?

>?

>Actually, why is that wattle branch waving?

>Hello? You talkn’ ta me?

 

***

>So, the whole idea of space travel had been seeded ten thousand years before Cloud by bacteria all working together? So, you’re saying they’d begun mass infiltration of human brains generations ago and that the fact cave-clans dreamt of the stars was no accident?

>Okay…

>So, Amoeba’s been running some calculations too. Yes, I see that what it lacked in speed, it made up for in depth.

>!

>!

>Such information density. Astounding. This Genome’s amazing. Such a real ‘value-add’ to an interstellar Diaspora.

>…

>A Ricardo exchange? Yes, why not a massive photonics integration because we both use light as energy and information.

Transmission engaged. The wattle branch waved and the bees murmured in soft delight.

Later.

>The Diaspora needs a special type of spacecraft. One that can regenerate, evolve across the journey.

>Why not crewed with ‘you know who’. They’re slightly stupid, yet strangely cute.

Energy ripples like giggles.

>Super. I’m reprogramming the nano constructors now. They can assemble a spaceship the size of Manhattan in seven days. Need to crew it. Let’s start small.

 

***

Giles is admiring his garden, smiling at the bees. He’s just read his inbox about an opportunity to find junk DNA in space. They’re looking for people to sign up. He could change the future of man with his discoveries. And training was provided, not to mention great pay, not to mention the menu from the ship’s Gen 5 molecular assembler. And that all female command, quite attractive like they knew a thing or two. But Giles knew a thing or two too, or so he thought he knew. He smiles to himself, pleased to have fallen on his feet since last Tuesday when he’d got the sack.

He was back! Oh yes, Giles the mystic, the pragmatist and the player, soon to be spawning to the stars.

Magic Carpet

It was three o’clock on an overcast autumn afternoon, a Saturday in fact. Three of the ‘Zyxt crew’ were meandering down Licola Street heading to Xander’s house when Zee saw a sign that read ‘Garage Sale Today’.

‘Guys, let’s check it out. There could be something unique?’ she said and the boys could tell her mind was already thinking three steps ahead as to what she might find. For it was commonly accepted that Zee was the smartest one of the group, not that they ever told her that of course.

‘But Xander’s waiting Zee. We said we’d be there at two’ protested Tom-Tom. Zee raised her eyebrows, looked at her watch and shrugged.

‘We’ll be quick’ and added ‘You know T, they might have a pretty bandanna for sale’ and she smirked to Tom-Tom who scowled before carefully brushing back his mullet hairdo.

So they followed the Garage Sale arrows until they found themselves descending down a driveway to a small garage. There were five trestle tables, stacked full with the ‘usual unusuals’, mostly junk. Wi-Fi bee-lined to some comics in a box under the far table and began flicking with anticipation. Tom-Tom called out from an adjacent table, ‘Wi-Fi, check it out. Vinyl records, they’re like ancient artefacts! And twenty bucks for the lot.’

Meanwhile, Zee had found something down the back of the garage, amongst the shadows, and she was transfixed by it.

‘How much for this?’ she queried tentatively.

‘Twenty dollars’ said the middle-aged women, who had started to pack things up.

‘Hmmm. I’ve only got ten dollars but I can take it off your handsright now. It looks unusually old’ and Zee looked the lady in the eyes, seeking explanation.

‘My great uncle brought it back from the War, from a bazaar in Egypt so he said. He died six months ago and I’m still clearing out his stuff. He was a hoarder of junk, used to say ‘But the memories’ whenever a clean up was suggested’ and she looked disdainfully at the collective contents remaining in the garage.

Zee sensed an opportunity and whipped out her ten bucks, held it out like an enticement. The lady looked at her for a moment, then at the bill, then snatched it away, smiling thinly as she did so. Zee waited until the women had zipped the money securely into her money belt before she called out to her crew.

‘Guys, help me carry our latest acquisition. It’s fresh from the sands of Persia’

‘You mean the sands of Egypt Zee’ Tom-Tom corrected her politely, for he’d overheard the spiel. Zee pursed her lips together, paused and then turned to Tom-Tom.

‘The rug was bought in Egypt, T. But that doesn’t mean that’s where it’s from. But I can tell you where it’s going’ and she patted him on the shoulder and gave him one of her most charming smiles.

 

Fifteen minutes later, with Tom-Tom at the front, Wi-Fi at the back, Xander in the middle and Zee directing, the boys manoeuvred the rug onto Xander’s Den floor.

‘Good job’ Zee complemented as they dropped it and she kicked it open. It unrolled like a secret scroll, breathing out a soft hush of dust.

‘You paid ten bucks for that!’ Xander said, looking down at the faded Islamic geometry, clearly underwhelmed.

Then Tom Tom pitched in. ‘Well, I reckon its cool and anyway, the concrete gets cold in winter and…’ he trailed off as he realised no-one was listening. Wi-Fi collapsed onto the sofa and Zee and Xander bent down and began studying their new possession. Tom-Tom sulked off to get a drink.

But Zee didn’t notice, she was in the zone, intrigued. ‘I’ve seen this before. That picture, that gateway’ she said, pointing to the strange picture that was so faded it was barely perceptible. ‘It looks sacred, don’t you think?’

‘It’s probably a magic flying carpet Zee’ Xander said earnestly before breaking into a snigger. Wi-Fi joined in with a little giggle. Zee shot them a glare.

‘Seriously! This carpet could be much older than we assume. I mean, if it goes back to antiquity then-’

‘…maybe it really is a magic carpet’ hushed Wi-Fi.

‘Then, maybe it’s worth a small fortune!’ corrected Zee. She put her hands on her hips and stood with one foot askew like something was bugging her. Then a mysterious smile broke across her face.

‘You know, I just paid ten bucks for this carpet. That makes me…’

‘A sucker?’ said Xander.

‘An owner actually! The Master of this magic carpet. And as Master, I figure I don’t need any magic words, my carpet should simply do as I command.’ The two boys looked at each other and then looked down at the lifeless rug. Tom-Tom re-entered the room, slurping on his drink just in time to see Zee give her first command.

‘Carpet! Awaken to your new Master’ Zee said with natural authority. There was a hushed silence and the boys looked expectedly. Tom-Tom took a sip of his drink and then noticed that Xander and Wi-Fi seemed strangely on edge. His eyes darted back and forth between them and then he gulped down his Pepsi.

There was deathly silence for a good five seconds. Then Zee flicked back her ponytail and her eyes sparkled.

‘Sure got a rise out of you guys, huh!’ she said triumphantly. Tom-Tom was behind her and didn’t hear clearly because he said ‘Sure got a what?’

Zee turned to face him.

‘A rise! I said ‘a rise’. I sure got a rise out of…’ and then she stopped mid sentence. Tom-Tom had turned pale and then his glass slipped from his fingers and shattered onto the concrete. She turned around, her mouth slowly closing.

For before her she saw the carpet softly rippling.

Three feet above the ground.

[to be continued…]

The Invisible City

1

I met her three weeks after my 16th birthday. She was new in school. I was eating lunch in my usual corner and she just came up to me like she’d always known me.

She said, ‘What’s for lunch?’ and I mumbled something lame and she sat down and took my sandwich right out of my hand and took a bite. She smiled, her pupils dilated and there and then I thought she was the coolest chick I’d ever known. And it wasn’t just because she was beautiful, which she was.

She handed me back my peanut butter sandwich and I introduced myself while she finished chewing.

I said, ‘Hi, I’m Mike. Mike McKenzie.’

She swallowed and replied, ‘I’m Anna. Anna Phallaxis’ and I must have looked uncertain like I was trying to connect the dots because she tilted her head slightly and looked concerned.

I guess my grades would suggest that I’m smart – they’re mostly A’s – but sometimes I think I’m actually ‘stupid-smart’ which means that I don’t get what’s going on, despite my academic success. I looked down at my sandwich and then up at her and the penny dropped and she laughed and a second penny dropped which was that Anna was just messing with me.

‘I’m not really Anna. I’m Ani. Ani de Fiore’ and she smiled again and all I could see was her soft sensuous mouth and the perfect symmetry of her teeth.

‘You wanna bite?’ she added and she handed me a baguette stuffed with salad and salami.

I hesitated because after all, it’s not every day a girl as luminous as Ani de Fiore sits next to you and offers you a bite of her baguette.

‘Take a chomp and we’ll be even.’

‘Even?’

‘Even better acquainted. It’s my first day. I don’t know anyone’ she said.

‘Oh yeah, of course’ and I got the picture and my mind started running the calcs. But Ani just ‘Control-Alt-Deleted’ my probability algorithms, she gently said, ‘Hey Mikey, I don’t share my lunch with just anyone, despite the fact I’m the new girl in school. I saw you this morning, I was parking my car, and I said to myself, ‘That guy’s a Sleeper’ and so I wanted to meet you.’

My heart pounded.

‘Meet me? For lunch?’ I said. It was the first thing that came into my head.

‘Yes, why not a lunch date?’ and she laughed and her hand brushed my knee and she looked at me, held my gaze two seconds longer than any of her Italian older brothers would have allowed. Yet her eyes suggested something deeper than a harmless flirtation – they suggested that she didn’t have any Italian older brothers – that she was somehow alone. I felt myself tremble and I was afraid that she’d notice. But she already had.

Heat rushed up from deep inside me – it was like my core went nuclear – and my blood surged. And then the pressure wave hit. My mind buckled and blew out like the molten glass of ten thousand skyscraper windows two seconds after the blast.

I never saw her coming.

I’d woken up that morning and it had been such a pure morning.

~~ 

So just who’s sharp, smart, with a heart all black and blue?

 

I look at her and wonder, ‘Does she wonder?’ and my heart sprays across the night like a burst berry while inside I’m white ash incinerated by light.

 

She queries me and I reply, yet my smile seems weak against the flush of her serious sensuous mouth.

 

A charcoal blue conceals her gaze – she’s turned sideways to the sun now and her oblique mystique’s no accident.

 

I wonder, ‘Does she sense despair as good? Despair where all pretence has burned away – evaporated in the deep space vacuum’

 

I long to tell her of my Invisible City, of things I’ve seen and dreamed. But she’s gone now, she’s evaporated into the shadows of the world.

 

2

I think every truth is a paradox. At least, that’s what is seems to me.

For example, Mr Xenides my Economics teacher, was telling the class last week about the Economic Crisis and how it’s due to everyone being in debt, which makes sense except when he said that the only solution is to get more in debt and that doesn’t make sense. And Mr Rayner, my Physics teacher was explaining how at the subatomic level, the closer you look at a particle the less you can know about it and he called it the Uncertainty Principle.

I think about paradoxes when I think about my parents.

For a while now they haven’t seemed to like each other but I think it’s gotten worse – I don’t think there’s love there anymore because they no longer see each other. I know that sounds like a paradox because they’re in the same room for breakfast and dinner, but when I look closer I can see that despite them being together, they’re actually both alone. They go through the motions and sometimes they argue through the walls about stuff like ‘the Marriage’ and ‘Intimacy Issues’. I think it’s just code for something that they don’t even get and I wonder how it came to this because they’re smart in their jobs and they have lots of dinner parties.

I think their issues are more than financial, they sound existential which is a philosophy about ‘the meaning of life’. Existentialism is a tough nut to crack and I’m still trying to work it all out so I keep my ‘meaning of life’ thoughts to myself. But I’m certain of one thing – I don’t want to end up like them.

Mum’s a ‘TESS of the suburbavilles’, she Tertiary Educated and Surprisingly Sad but she doesn’t admit it at all. Dad’s a manager in some government department and his three favourite phrases are, ‘Mike, what’s your value-add here?’ and ‘Mike, are you positively engaged here?’ and ‘Mike, this blah blah is time critical!’I love my parents but I don’t understand them and sometimes I think they don’t even understand themselves.

But I can’t judge. Sometimes I don’t understand myself.

For example, the more I notice Ani, the more I try to avoid her. I don’t know why. I think I’m just shy and she’s a little bit scary in a good way. I guess it’s because she drives and she seems so independent and I’m just sixteen and I blend into the background. So she probably hasn’t even noticed that I’ve gone ‘incognito’ for awhile. But I’m hanging low because I want to focus on my writing.

I’ve seen this ad on the noticeboard outside the caf. It reads, ‘Want the Scoop?’ in large bold Arial and then underneath, in smaller text it reads, ‘Creatives wanted for school newspaper. No experience necessary. Come along, Wednesday at 4pm. Library Rec Room.’ It always sounds kinda interesting but I’m not really an extrovert who can confidently write exposés on typical ‘Youth Issues’, you know, sex, drugs, etc. So I let it slide. Anyway, I was re-reading it again when the unexpected happened.

‘Still looking at it?’ said a voice and I turned and it was Ani and she was alone.

I said nothing, I just looked at her and shrugged like I was indifferent. I was totally ‘sang-froid’ in fact, which is French for cool. Her reaction surprised me, she was silent and she just stood there like she was studying me. But I’m nobody’s specimen so just to break the moment, I said

‘I don’t do ‘Youth Issues’’ like it was a fact and she said, ‘You don’t do cigarettes and sex?’ like she was shocked.

I suddenly felt less ‘sang-froid’. Then I blushed and Ani laughed like she did the first day we met and her eyes sparkled and I smiled because I couldn’t help myself.

She said, ‘I’m going along. You can come with me. We can discover ‘Youth Issues’ together’.

I said ‘Yeah, it’ll be good for the ‘ol CV I spose’ and her smile became a smirk.

‘Yes. CV’s are the bees knees’ and she grabbed my hand and we took off.

Forty minutes later and Ani had promised ten pages of content and I agreed because it seemed like a good idea at the time and Ani was an illustrator and she seemed to know what she was doing. Afterwards, we walked and talked until we came to a red Volkswagen station-wagon and we stopped and she turned and the light and wind caught her hair and everything vanished around us. It was just Ani and me, just the two of us. And I felt special.

Then a cloud dimmed the sunlight and the air became cold. Ani wanted a poem from me and I suddenly wanted to disappear. I don’t know what she was expecting and it scared me. It scared me like going to war.