The balcony at the rear of Ava’s house was her sometimes refuge. There she sought sanctuary from her husband Pete, the prying eyes of her domestic staff and the dank air conditioning in which she spent most of her days and nights. She was nearly done reading her pile of East Timor cables. She wasn’t supposed to take them out of the embassy, but everyone did. Otherwise you would spend even less time at home.
Ava finished the last one and looked around her at the inordinately high concrete walls topped with jagged pieces of glass that surrounded the house on three sides. They protected her family from thieves and gave them privacy from the gawking eyes of neighbours, but lately it felt that perhaps the cost of this seclusion was too great. The walls dimmed the natural light that might have eradicated the cloying must, stymied the cool summer breezes that would have brought her relief and gave the house a sense of isolation. No matter how grand and light the house was inside, their shadow made Ava feel deprived and as though she was only half alive. Her home, her haven, had become her prison, a sad empty battleground in which her and Pete’s arguments echoed from wall to wall as Juliette hid in her bedroom during the few hours they were together and awake under the same roof.
Lately Ava’s job brought her little satisfaction either. She was covering the two most important issues in Australian diplomacy for years—regime change in Indonesia and the resolution of East Timor—and yet she felt more dissatisfied than ever. Had she, in order to do this work, compartmentalised her emotions so deeply that she was no longer able to enjoy her job? Was it rather the stalemate she and Pete were living in, the no man’s land in which they were neither separated nor together, that caused her to feel such discontent? Or perhaps it was both, or neither. She didn’t know. Her life, like the resolution of East Timor it seemed, was going nowhere and she wondered if she might be stuck in this anesthetised half existence forever.
Above her a cloud burst. There was a bright jack of lightning that turned darkness into daylight and was followed by a thunderous clap and rain that pelted down so hard it sounded like hail. Ava jumped in her chair as her heart skipped, but at last she felt something, even if it was just physical.
She stood up and moved over to the edge of the balcony so she was only centimetres away from the downpour. She put an arm out into the deluge, then her other arm. She wanted to feel something again, that sense of reverence at being alive.
She stepped out now so that all of her was submerged. She tried to look up, but the rain cascaded down so hard it hurt her eyes. Instead the top of her head took the full brunt, but even though it hurt it still wasn’t enough to spark any emotion from that part of her that had been so deeply filed away.
Ava turned to go back inside and under the dryness of the balcony saw Pete. He was standing with his hands on his hips, shaking his head and looking at her with resentment in his eyes.
‘You of all people should never have been given the East Timor job,’ he said. ‘It will never bring you what you’re looking for.’
Ava flashed him a hurt look as she walked past him into her bedroom, leaving a trail of water behind her and locking the door so she was once again—or was it still?—alone.